It's official: Astros sweep means Red Sox' season is finally over

It's official: Astros sweep means Red Sox' season is finally over originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Fans of HBO's mortuary-set melodrama "Six Feet Under" will remember the fade to white that opened each episode: a title card stating the decedent's lifespan. In that vein, let us celebrate a season that joined the sweet hereafter on Wednesday afternoon.

Boston Red Sox: March 30, 2023 – Aug. 30, 2023.

The end came as it has for so many teams over the last six years: at the hands of the hated Houston Astros. The defending World Series champs came to Boston in danger of losing their grip on the wild card lead and instead grabbed hold of an effective first-place tie with the surging Mariners in the AL West.

They didn't so much break the will of the Red Sox as bat it around like a bored cat. The Red Sox sent independent leaguer Kyle Barraclough to the mound with the terms of their unconditional surrender in the opener, succumbed to the Rec-spectacled J.P. France on Tuesday, and were finally pummeled off the stage in Wednesday's 7-4 loss that was only that close because the Astros decided to stop scoring once they led 7-0.

For months, the Red Sox have feinted towards oblivion, only to stumble back from the precipice, but on Wednesday, they finally ran out of ground beneath their feet. They now trail the Rangers by 6.5 games in the wild card race and the Blue Jays by four for the coveted spot of first runner-up, and if I quote the wild card standings again this year, it means I've run out of things to say and need filler.

The Red Sox are about to join the Angels, A's, Yankees, and entire AL Central in the ranks of the irrelevant, rendering their September schedule little more than background noise amidst the region's returning college students. About the only way we'll notice the undergrads or the team, beyond the general inconvenience they both create for Kenmore Square commuters, is if either gets Storrowed.

I wouldn't exactly call the last five months "fun," but they weren't boring, either. The Red Sox left spring training with minimal expectations and then slightly exceeded them. Pegged for last by most prognosticators, they will instead almost assuredly finish between the underachieving Blue Jays and embarrassing Yankees.

We're No. 4! Print the T-shirts.

They gave us some reasons for optimism, like the emergence of youngsters Brayan Bello, Jarren Duran, and slugging first baseman Triston Casas. They also hit on most of their free agents, from $90 million Japanese import Masataka Yoshida to All-Star closer Kenley Jansen to the clutch Justin Turner. And Alex Cora managed the hell out of this thing to keep the Red Sox above .500 and within wild card striking distance until now, as illusory as their success may have been.

Unfortunately, we leave this season with even more questions, including the fitness of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to oversee the next step in the team's evolution, which will necessarily require him to part with the prospects that he loves like the rarest Furbies. While Bloom has been on stable footing for most of his Red Sox tenure, there have been rumblings of dissatisfaction from the ownership level on his do-nothing trade deadline, when even a couple of league average pitchers might've allowed the Red Sox to compete for the third wild card.

The Red Sox intend to build a contender through the farm, but minor-league reinforcements aren't coming soon enough to transform next year's title chances, and they might not arrive in 2025, either.

Thanks to injuries, a little shine has come off top prospect Marcelo Mayer, who has been downgraded from can't-miss to probably-won't-miss in the various rankings -- Baseball America now only places him four spots ahead of fellow Red Sox prospect Roman Anthony. The consensus among rival evaluators is that the Red Sox boast some good position prospects, but are short on arms, the flaw that ultimately proved their undoing this season.

Their ability to contend probably hinges on their willingness to swing big either in trade or free agency this winter, two areas where Bloom consistently thinks small.

These are all topics for another day, however. Today is about showing solemn respect for the departed, and even if they won't exactly be missed, per se, the 2023 Red Sox gave us five months of intermittent entertainment, which isn't the most inspiring eulogy, but this is real life, it's not HBO.