The Boston Red Sox entered the month of September leading the AL East by 1½ games. They have since gone 6-18 this month and now cling to a one game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card race. If the Red Sox fail to make the postseason, their collapse would be historic.
No team with a lead of nine-or-more games entering the final month of the season has failed to reach the playoffs. The largest deficit overcome by a team in September to make the postseason was 8½ games by the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals.
What’s gone wrong and who’s to blame for the Red Sox?
Red Sox starting pitching has struggled throughout September. Red Sox starters are 4-12 with an MLB-worst 7.17 ERA this month and have made just four quality starts in September.
Worst September ERA
Red Sox History
The Red Sox have frequently found themselves facing early deficits. They’ve allowed their opponents to score first in 20 of 24 games this month, and are 4-16 in those 20 games.
The Red Sox offense has been boom-or-bust in September. They are 4-1 when scoring at least 10 runs, but are just 2-17 when they fail to score in double figures. They have scored two runs or fewer eight times this month.
The Red Sox defense has also been ineffective. The Red Sox have allowed a MLB-high 34 steals in September, and their pitchers have given up 14 unearned runs this month, which is the second-most among AL teams.
At the other end of the east coast, the Rays were 53-50 after a 13-4 loss to the Athletics on July 27. They were 8½ games behind the Yankees for the AL Wild Card lead, and 11½ behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead.
What’s gone right for the Rays?
Desmond Jennings, who made his debut on July 23, was an integral part of the early part of the Rays’ run. Over a 29-game stretch from July 28 to August 28, he hit .339 with eight home runs, 16 RBI, and 11 stolen bases.
Evan Longoria has been clutch. Since July 28, he’s hit 16 home runs, and 15 of the 16 have come in situations in which the score was within three runs. Longoria has 45 RBI since July 28, the third-most in the AL.
Largest September Deficit Overcome to Make Postseason
The Rays have gotten big contributions recently from a pair of rookie pitchers. Matt Moore pitched three innings of relief in a win over the Red Sox, then struck out 11 Yankees in a win last Thursday. Alex Torres pitched five scoreless innings in relief of injured starter Jeff Niemann in Saturday’s win over the Blue Jays.
However, the Rays are going against history in one regard. They’ve never had a winning September. Their best previous September was in 2008 and 2010 when they went 13-14. They enter Monday 14-10 in September.
The Rays finish up with three home games against the best team in the AL, the New York Yankees, while the Red Sox have their final three games against the division's cellar-dweller, the Baltimore Orioles.