McAdam: Sox playoff hopes may be fading away

McAdam: Sox playoff hopes may be fading away
July 24, 2014, 6:30 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

TORONTO -- Wasn't it only three days ago that the Red Sox' playoff hopes looked, if not strong, at least revived? Wasn't it just the start of this week when suddenly, a quixotic, second-half run looked, if not probable, at least possible?

In short, didn't the Red Sox have -- if nothing else -- hope?

Now that hope looks like yesterday's news.

The same team that arrived here Sunday night having won seven of eight games then opened the series with a 14-1 mauling of the Toronto Blue Jays limped out of Canada last night having lost three straight.

To put it in hockey terms, the Red Sox were a plus-13 in the first game -- and a minus-14 in the three games that followed.

All the ground that the Red Sox made up in their brief run toward the end of the first half and the first four games after the All-Star break has been forfeited.

Once again, they find themselves in last place, with four teams in the East ahead of them and too many to mention in front of them for the second wild card.

Here's a complete, unabridged list of American League teams with more losses than the Red Sox: the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. 

That's it.

And unless the Red Sox can cancel out the three losses to Toronto by going into Tropicana Field and sweeping the surging Rays -- winners of seven straight and eight of the last 10 -- then that may be it for the their dwindling playoff hopes, too.

"We don't have much room to be losing many games,'' noted a glum David Ortiz after Thursday's 8-0 shutout at the hands of the Blue Jays, during which the Red Sox managed exactly one hit.

Thanks to a poor start from Rubby De La Rosa -- one run allowed in the first, two more in the third and another two in the fourth -- the Sox were outclassed early.

"We were behind the eight-ball right from the first, second inning ,'' said John Farrell, "and really never were in this one.''

Maybe the 7-1 streak, built on the backs of the White Sox, Astros, and Royals was nothing more than a mirage, a case of a below-average team taking advantage of three other clubs not much better than they are.

Of course, the Blue Jays aren't much better, especially with three regulars out of their lineup. But that didn't stop them from dominating the Red Sox for the final three games of the series and limiting them to just seven runs over the final 27 innings.

On Tuesday night, the Sox stranded runners as a matter of routine, leaving a total of five left on base in the fourth and fifth, and it was back to the issues that dogged them for so much of April, May and June.

The starting pitching failed, them, too. Jake Peavy was charged with five runs Tuesday, a number matched by Clay Buchholz Wednesday and topped by De La Rosa (six earned runs) in the series finale.

No matter how your lineup is producing -- and the Sox scored half as many runs in the final three games of the series combined in the series opener -- your rotation has to do better than average more than five earned runs per outing in order to win games.

Thanks to the sheer mediocrity of the rest of the division, it's a little too soon to say the Red Sox have dug themselves too deep a hole. But it's getting close.

They'll need a run longer than nine games to have any credibility as a playoff team and they'll need to sustain it against better opponents than the White Sox, Astros and Royals.

And it will have to start soon.