On Aug. 27, the Red Sox were 69-62 (.527). While this was far from a good record, the Red Sox were only 2 games behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot. By the end of the season, they were 11 games behind Toronto. What happened?
Per Baseball Reference, the Red Sox went 9-22 (.290) in their final 31 games of the season, tied with the White Sox for the worst record in all of baseball during that span of games. They were outscored by almost 50 runs, had four separate four-game losing streaks, and got swept four times. When the Red Sox needed to play their best, they played just about their worst.
On the other hand, in the Blue Jays' remaining 31 games, they went 18-13 (.581). Their 18 wins — compared to the Red Sox's 9 — explains how they increased their Wild Card cushion from 2 to 11 games in the last month of the season.
While the Jays have already been eliminated and the ALDS is well underway, let's see what it would have taken for the Sox to sneak into the playoffs.
The Red Sox would have needed to finish the season 20-11
Assuming the Blue Jays still went 18-13, the Red Sox would have needed to win 20 of their final 31 games to beat the Jays out for the final wild card spot. This would have resulted in a tie with the Blue Jays at 89-73, and the Wild Card would go to the Sox since they won the season series 7-6.
While this would have been an incredible stretch of baseball, two teams did it and others came close. The Padres won 21 of their final 31 games (which still, somehow, didn't get them into the playoffs), the Rays won 20 of 31, and the Yankees/Orioles/Tigers each took 19 of 31. Difficult, but certainly not impossible.
There were some alternative paths to the playoffs, too. What if, say, the Red Sox swept the Blue Jays in their mid-September series? After all, the Sox lost 3-0, 4-3 (in extras), and 3-2 — all very tight, winnable games.
Regardless of the path, this type of comeback would require some of their best baseball of the season, and this is just not what they put out.
Despite finishing the season with the third-best average and seventh-best OPS in baseball, the Sox had the fifth-worst average and second-worst OPS in baseball since Aug. 27 per FanGraphs. They also scored just 122 runs (fourth worst), compared to opponents' 171.
This drop in productivity can partially be explained by the loss of Duran and Casas to injuries, but their bats also just flat out underperformed down the stretch.
In the same span of games, their 4.52 ERA was the 10th worst in baseball — which matched their team ERA ranking for the entire season.
So, while the Red Sox finished at 78-84 and far from a Wild Card spot, let us not forget that this team was within a few games of a Wild Card spot in late August. And, if they got hot and snuck into the postseason, perhaps they wouldn't have lost to a team who hasn't won a playoff game in 18 years.