A September to Forget in Beantown

Denizens of Red Sox Nation have been sounding the alarm for a couple of weeks now. But, even after all of the team’s success over the past decade, many such folks are apt to sound the alarm when Dustin Pedroia stubs his pinky toe or Jonathan Papelbon sneezes a little too loudly, so it’s always good to take these waves of panic with a grain (or seven) of salt. But here we are in late September, and the Red Sox have done little to stem the tide. Even Josh Beckett fell victim to the Olde Towne Team’s September malaise on Wednesday. Turns out, all the hand-wringing and theoretical (hopefully) Tobin Bridge jumping has been justified.

The Boston Red Sox, Or Americans, as they were once known, have played in September in 110 different seasons. Of them, in only six seasons did they score more runs per game than the 5.81 they are averaging this September. In two of those seasons — 1903 and 2004 — they won the World Series. That’s pretty much where the good news ends, as, for the month, the Sox are also allowing 6.48 runs per game. That total, should it hold up for the duration of the regular season, would be Boston’s worst runs allowed mark for September/October ever — by more than half a run per game (0.62 to be exact). And when you consider that this is a down season for offense, it gets just a bit more frightening.

The next four worst marks all came in seasons in which the Sox didn’t even have the faint whiff of a contender — 1932 (last place, .279 overall winning percentage), 1993 (5th place, .494), 1920 (5th place, .471) and 1923 (last place again, .401). Devout members of the Nation will remember 1932 as the single-worst season in Red Sox history. That year, the club went 43-111, for a vomit-inducing .279 winning percentage. The team had three players who compiled a WAR of 2.0 or better, and 36 who compiled a WAR of 0.7 or worse, including 18 players with a negative WAR.

The picture doesn’t get any rosier when you look at the team’s winning percentage this month. At a lowly .238, the only September/October on record that qualifies as worse is 1926, when the Sox closed out the season with a 4-18 record, good for an Olsen-sized .182 winning percentage. 1926 was — you guessed it — the second-worst season in Red Sox history, as the club finished 46-107.

But while few, if any, Red Sox fans were alive to witness those seasons, a much greater percentage of current Sox fans were around to witness the so-called 1978 collapse, and it has been referenced more than a few times this month. But lest we forget, that September wasn’t so much about the Red Sox collapsing as it was about the Yankees catching fire. The Red Sox went 15-15 in the lead up to the one-game playoff at Fenway, and 15-16 overall from September 1 on — good for a .484 winning percentage. That puts it towards the middle of the pack in terms of Red Sox finishes — the Sox had a worse end of season winning percentage in 42 other seasons.

Of course, it doesn’t need to end this way. The Red Sox still have six games left — three in the Bronx and three in Baltimore. The Yankees have little to play for at this juncture, and the Orioles are the Orioles. There’s still time to win five of six and end up with a September that blends in with a lot of other subpar-but-not-quite-tragic finishes — taking three of the final six would move them out of the five-worst September/October’s by winning percentage. They can do as well as the 22nd worst mark if they win out, though they need only go 4-2 to guarantee themselves at least one more game. And with Beckett, Jon Lester and Erik Bedard tentatively on tap to start four of the remaining six games, they may even put a dent in that worst-ever 6.48 runs allowed per game.

A team that finishes the season poorly won’t necessarily perform poorly in the playoffs, and should they reach October, a lot of the bleeding for the Red Sox will cease once John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland are all placed in some of Fenway Park’s many dark corners for a month-long time out. Still, the fears of Red Sox fans (and the giddiness of Boston haters) are justified — this has truly been a September to forget in Beantown.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


43 Responses to “A September to Forget in Beantown”

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  1. JoeyPajamas says:

    Here’s hoping for a few wins, some Rays/Angels losses, good health, and a sick playoff run.

    Good lord, it has been painful watching this team the past few weeks. Not often you assume the Sox are going to lose day-in and day-out.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      The author points out that Beckett/Lester/Bedard are pitching most of the remaining games, as a positive. But that’s part of the problem. They won’t have the chance to line up their rotation. Lester and Beckett are currently lined up to pitch the last 2 games of the season. This leaves Lackey/Wakefield/Miller/Aceves as the game 1 starter. Pick your poison.

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      • Eric M. Vam says:

        Beckett can go on 4 days rest Monday and then pitch game 2 of an ALDS (which also leaves him as an option for Game 5). They have to hope they’ve clinched before the last day of the season and have Lester pitch game 1 (on 6 days rest, which he could probably use) rather than on Wednesday.

        If Lester does have to pitch a clinching game on Wednesday, yeah, they seem screwed for Game 1.

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      • Goodbread says:

        Re: lining the rotation, having to choose from those putrid options for game 1 is avoided if it doesn’t come down to the end of the season. With 11 aggregate games between Boston and Tampa, it’s possible and approaching probable that the WC race will not come down to the last game.

        And it is exactly a positive that Lester and Beckett are set to play a significant role over the final 6 as that’s the best way to avoid having to expend both front-end starters to close the deal on the last day of the regular season.

        Yes, September in Boston has been that bad that it’s come to this.

        But the math is still on the side of these sorry Sox. Barely.

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  2. Telo says:

    “Denizens of Red Sox Nation have been sounding the alarm for a couple of weeks now. But, even after all of the team’s success over the past decade, many such folks are apt to sound the alarm when Dustin Pedroia stubs his pinky toe or Jonathan Papelbon sneezes a little too loudly, so it’s always good to take these waves of panic with a grain (or seven) of salt. But here we are in late September, and the Red Sox have done little to stem the tide. Even Josh Beckett fell victim to the Olde Towne Team’s September malaise on Wednesday. Turns out, all the hand-wringing and theoretical (hopefully) Tobin Bridge jumping has been justified. ”

    What clever and witty writing. Hoping folks jump off a bridge! Hilarious!

    I would’ve read the rest, but I figured it was just more garbage.

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  3. TylerTheCreator says:

    Red Sox fans need to PANIC. I mean all they have is an elite offense, two top starters, and shutdown 8th and 9th inning guys…who wins in the playoffs with that recipe? You NEED rotation depth! 5th & 6th starters FTW.

    I pray to the baseball gods that (nonserious) injuries strike the Red Sox and Yankees, and Game 7 of the ALCS is a Lackey and Burnett matchup.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Have you followed them at all lately? Bard hasn’t been a shutdown 8th inning guy lately. He’s pitched like Mel Rojas.

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  4. Steve says:

    the same fangraphs writer who at the beginning of the week had the redsox as the 2nd best team in the power rankings, is now writing another story on his great and very important redsox.

    future closer bard has become the reincarnation of jason grilli or farnsworthless. no starting pitching, hitters slumping and injured, they need old manny and ortiz’s hgh/ped doctor. right it’s a misnomer, redsox players don’t cheat.
    That great signing of the japanese pitcher ($53M posting) looks better and better.
    This baseball fan lives in boston and is certainly enjoying this folding accordion act this september. shades of ’74 and ’78.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      It isn’t a misnomer. They do, in fact, wear red socks.

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    • Tom B says:

      The writer didn’t put any team anywher ein the “power rankings”. The math did. Learn to read.

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      • Billion Memes says:

        Yes the writer did. This “the math” did it continues to amaze me. College football BCS rankings produce this same mindset with their computer portion of the rankings. A human being made the computer rankings. A human being made these power rankings. He chose the components to include. They are not statistical facts. They are subjective choices by a person on what to use as the measures for team strength. Its just a way to produce team rankings which people like to read about while giving the creator a chance to deflect overwhelming criticism if it so comes. I for one like the rankings, although would like to see them tweaked to make them more fun (not enough chance for movement based on recent play in my mind). But let’s not pretend that the math made the rankings. The author made the math.

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      • Tom B says:

        Well you clearly have no idea how those leaderboards were constructed then.

        The original list was the fans expected winning percentage for each team. Not the authors.

        Over the course of the year the list was progressively weighted by actual WAR %. Not by the author’s opinion.

        The authors opinion never comes into play. You would know that if you read the “THIS IS HOW THESE POWER RANKINGS WORK” article posted at the top of the article every time it was updated.

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    • Gregory says:

      What is this, an ESPN comment forum? Insulting the writer and using bad nicknames for players are things I’m not happy to see show up on this website.

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  5. Tom B says:

    If they get rained out tonight, Lester won’t be lined up to pitched Wednesday. Not a lot going their way right now.

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  6. GVeers says:

    Red Sox Baseball: never a dull moment.

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  7. Sultan of Schwwingg says:

    Yet, nothing would be more fitting than for these Sox to exit their terrible slump against 1) A team they have handled easily this year 2) Its GM who is announcing to everyone who would listen that he suckered them into acquiring Crawford, implying both he and the team suck 3) A team which has experienced the exact opposite luck that the Sox have, in that came into the season unprepared to pitch through it, but actually did. Quite well, in fact.

    Let’s get it on.

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  8. Judy says:

    The Red Sox have played 3 kinds of games in September. The most common one, the starting pitcher gives up 5+ runs in the first few innings and gets pulled before the 5th, they score some runs, but not enough to dig out of the hole the starter put them in early. The 2nd kind, the starting pitcher keeps them in the game for 5 or even 6 innings, they score enough to get a 1 or 2 run lead, which the bullpen then blows. The 3rd kind, they score 14+ runs and even their pitching manages to hold the lead. In all 3 kinds of games, their fielding is terrible. But I would think it’ll be the Orioles who get to put them out of their misery, even more fitting since it will probably be the first time in years that the Orioles fans will have their ballpark to themselves for a Red Sox series. And Orioles fans deserve to enjoy something for a change.

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  9. Sean says:

    For a version of the Sox September Slide in musical verse check out,

    http://lansdowneandthestreets.bandcamp.com/

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  10. Phil says:

    Semantics aside, this is an “elite” ballplayer?

    (Triple Slash, wOBA and wRC+)

    .261 .347 .374 .332 106

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    • Welp says:

      I think you are lost. But that’s the first time I’ve ever heard “defense and baserunning” referred to as “semantics”. Clever.

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  11. JG says:

    The Orioles may be a last place team, but they’ve looked good lately. They’ve won 7 of their last 10 I think, with all of those games coming against very strong teams (Tampa, LA, Boston, and Detroit). Who knows if it’s for real (it probably isn’t – it’s the freaking Orioles) but they ARE definitely a hot team right now.

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    • Welp says:

      They were hot at the end of last season, too. Meaningless.

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      • Herp Derp says:

        This is the equivalent of the playoffs for the O’s. They are fighting to eliminate the contenders they face and beat the clinchers they face. They have nothing after this, so they are giving it their all

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    • Bill says:

      The Orioles rebuild has failed. I was optimistic last year, but now this is clear. They once more need to blow things up and try again. All their vaunted prospects have had their chances to prove themselves and every one of them has failed to live up to expectations. I don’t see any reason for optimism in Baltimore next year.

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  12. Except says:

    The meaningful part is that they are actually playing games against the Red Sox. If they are playing well and likely to win those games, that is very meaningful.

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    • Except says:

      Bah, meant to reply to “Welp” above. I’m bad at the internet.

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    • Welp says:

      Not a question of meaningfulness to the players, but whether it is a meaningful indicator of future success. The comment said “who knows if it’s for real”. We all do: it isn’t.

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    • Spiggy says:

      I am not a Sox fan at all, but how is it karma? Did Theo torch an old folks’ home in the off-season? Does Francona have a habit of cutting other drivers off in traffic?

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      • jim says:

        it’s bad karma brought by crawford after selling out

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        Yes! It’s all Crawford’s fault!

        I like that one better. I was going to blame the season on poor fortune but then I thought, nah, that’s too boring. So I decided to blame the season on Lackey – that worked real well for awhile. Everyone pretty much agreed and the guy comes across as a dick anyway.

        But Crawford, yeah; a much better target for venom. He gets paid more, looks laughably confused all the time, complains about where in the lineup he hits, and is less likely than Lackey to improve.

        Crawford, you suck. It’s all your fault!

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  13. everdiso says:

    Hmm.

    So last year the Red Sox finished with 89 wins.

    In the offseason, they ditched 2 of their best players – Beltre (7.0war) and Martinez (3.8war).

    They replaced these 2 guys with Crawford (7.5war career best, 4-5war average last few years), and Gonzalez (6.2war career best, 4-5war average last few years).

    Other than that they did….pretty much nothing aside from shuffle some depth players (Delcarmen, Ramirez, Hall OUT, Jenks, Wheeler, Salty IN).

    And once again they entered this season as one of the oldest and most injured teams in baseball.

    And lo and behold, the Red Sox are on pace for about…..wait for it…..89 wins again.

    Shocking stuff.

    People are surprised at this why, exactly? just because this year’s team has been streakier than last year’s team?

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    • Hmmmm..

      Per Tango, a replacement level team is good for 47.4 Wins. Sox team is 39.7 Wins Above Replacement. 47.4 + 39.7 = 87.1 Wins.

      Actual record = 88/69

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    • Greg says:

      “one of the oldest and most injured teams in baseball”

      If it were the old guys getting injured, there would be no problem. Wouldn’t they happily trade Wakefield for a healthy Buchholz?

      Some of the Globe writers have been complaining about their conditioning though, especially in the last couple of days. The management should expect to answer a lot of questions about their training regimen in the next several months.

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  14. efmichalo says:

    I would hate to play Boston in the playoffs, if/when this team wakes up, it will be a nightmare for the opposing pitching staff. Horrible start and horrible finish but if the giant wakes up, it’s championship number 3

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  15. Pelly says:

    Where’s Dave Cameron? Can I panic yet? Before tonight’s game, the Sox are ahead only half a game. Is it okay to panic, or is that statistically absurd?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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