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Red Sox playoff hopes look dashed after Astros complete demoralizing sweep

Jan 20, 2024

BOSTON — All season long the Red Sox have been just good enough to stay alive, but Wednesday afternoon the Houston Astros likely finished them off for good.

Boston’s already slim playoff hopes look all but dead after Houston completed a decisive three-game sweep at Fenway Park, beating the Red Sox 7-4 in the series finale.

Pending the result of Wednesday night’s Rangers vs. Mets game, the Red Sox could go into Thursday’s off-day 7.5 games out of the playoffs with only 28 games left to play.

Wednesday’s game felt like it was over before it even got started. The Astros battered starting pitcher Kutter Crawford for six runs on seven hits and a walk and chased him from the game after only 2.2 innings. Houston scored three runs each in the second and third innings, loading the bases with one out in the third before Michael Brantley delivered the knockout blow with a two-run single to make it 6-0.

Once again, the Red Sox bullpen was forced to work overtime, and six Red Sox relievers combined to finish the last 6.1 innings.

The Astros made it 7-0 after Alex Bregman hit an RBI double in the fourth, and for a while it looked like the Red Sox weren’t going to be able to get anything off Framber Valdez. The Astros starter faced the minimum 15 batters through the first five innings, allowing only a single to Justin Turner in the fourth that was immediately erased by an inning-ending double play.

Things finally flipped in the sixth when the Red Sox rallied for four runs. The first four batters of the inning all reached safely, including Connor Wong on a run-scoring throwing error by Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña and then rookie Ceddanne Rafaela on a wall-ball double for his first big league RBI.

Turner and Rafael Devers tacked on RBI groundouts to cap off the rally, and in the seventh the Red Sox had a chance to tie the game after getting two men on with two outs. But Rafaela struck out to end the rally and the Red Sox couldn’t cut the deficit any further.

As a result, they finish the month of August 13-15 and now look to be out of the running.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Over the past month the Red Sox steadily returned to full health, and the hope was that with Trevor Story, Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck back in the fold the club could realize its full potential. The Red Sox had no shortage of opportunities, but the club consistently failed to capitalize on the moments that could have vaulted it into the playoff picture.

First there was the three-game sweep against the Toronto Blue Jays at the beginning of the month. Entering the weekend trailing their rivals by two games for the last Wild Card spot, the Red Sox could have potentially leapfrogged the Blue Jays with a big showing at Fenway Park. Instead they got smacked around and were left looking up at a five-game deficit.

Then there came last week’s four-game set in Houston. Trailing the Astros by 3.5 games the Red Sox could have made things interesting with a sweep, or at least a series win. Instead they got rocked in the first two games before salvaging a split to maintain the status quo for a little longer.

Even after losing this weekend’s series to the Los Angeles Dodgers the Red Sox still had life, and with a strong showing these past few days against Houston they could have gone into September with a realistic chance. Now their playoff odds are close to zero, and their only chance of making the playoffs would require both a wild and improbable September surge plus near total collapses by at least two playoff rivals.

More likely, the Red Sox will go without playing meaningful games in September for the second straight year, starting with this weekend’s three-game series in Kansas City.

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