One year ago Friday, the Boston Red Sox had the best record in the American League. No one questioned if the team would make the postseason. Certainly, no one predicted a yearlong implosion.
Sure, signs of a flawed team were there. Was Erik Bedard really going to start Game 3 of the American League Division Series? Could Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew get healthy? When would Carl Crawford click?
Even sitting atop the AL, it was clear that Boston wasn't the unstoppable force some had predicted. Still, the question was how far the Sox could make it in the postseason, not whether they'd make it.
Those were simpler times.
Then September happened. The 7-20 record happened. The biggest collapse in MLB history happened.
But that could have been the end of it.
Terry Francona was thrown on the grenade. Theo Epstein fled to Chicago. A regime change meant a fresh start. The talent was still in place for Boston to be among the best in baseball and prove the collapse to be an aberration.
One year later, the truth is much uglier.
On the anniversary of its beginning, it's clear that the collapse was about more than the 2011 playoffs. Last September opened a wound that stitches couldn't mend.
Ultimately, Ben Cherington had to amputate.
In isolation, September 2011 was just an embarrassing month -- one that didn't necessarily need to carry over to 2012. In reality, the collapse foreshadowed the endemic flaws that winning had masked.
Going into last September, the Red Sox were 83-52, the best record in the American League. A 99 percent chance of making the postseason gradually evaporated. Fast forward a year, and the Red Sox have a 99 percent chance of missing the playoffs.
Over the past calendar year, the Red Sox are 69-90, the third-worst record in the American League and sixth-worst in the majors. Seemingly with the turn of a calendar, Boston went from one of the best teams in the league to one of the worst.
Last September (and the subsequent fallout) revealed a great deal about the off-field issues surrounding the Red Sox. Lack of leadership, clubhouse disharmony and irresponsible behavior magnified what occurred on the field. Despite changes at the top, the situation seemingly deteriorated in 2012.
However, the 2011 collapse foreshadowed just as much on the field. Boston's rotation had its worst month ever in September 2011, posting a 7.08 ERA. Those woes have lasted a year. On paper, the Red Sox went into 2012 with one of the most talented rotations in the majors (not to mention among the priciest). However, dating back to September 2011, Boston's rotation has a 5.25 ERA, the fourth-highest in the majors.
Jon Lester and Josh Beckett -- both 2011 All-Stars -- combined to go 2-5 with a 5.43 ERA last September. That month turned into a year. The duo has gone 15-27 since the start of last September. They are two of the four AL starters with ERAs over 5.00 in that span.
Last September, Daniel Bard became the first Red Sox reliever to lose four games in the month since Ellis Kinder in 1955. His 10.64 ERA was the third-highest for a Red Sox pitcher in September since World War II. Once again, September was seen as an aberration. Not only would Bard bounce back, he was supposed to do so as a starter. He's now 5-10 with a 6.14 ERA over the past calendar year with more walks than strikeouts.
The collapse also foreshadowed struggles at Fenway Park. Including a 4-10 record last September, the Red Sox are 36-48 at home over the past calendar year. That's the fourth-worst home record in the majors. Lester (3-9, 6.26 ERA at Fenway) and Beckett (3-6, 5.29 ERA) sputtered in front of a home crowd that grew less accommodating with each start. A team built to succeed at Fenway has instead flailed.
As drastic as Boston's decline has been, the overhaul has been even more extreme. After last week's deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, only nine players remain from Boston's 2011 opening day roster. That number includes Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is unlikely to be in the team's future plans.
Just 18 months after Theo Epstein assembled arguably the most talented squad in franchise history, less than a third of the players will remain.
Of the nine players in the lineup on Sept. 1, 2011, only four remain: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Jose Iglesias (born in 1990) is currently the 10th-most tenured player on the 40-man roster.
Over the past year, 67 players have worn the Red Sox's uniform. Gone are franchise staples such as Beckett and Youkilis, as well as the supposed cornerstones of the future in Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
A year ago that was unimaginable. Then September happened.