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Tara Sullivan

The latest Red Sox tailspin shows management was never serious about building a playoff contender

Reliever Kyle Barraclough was left out on the mound to face the powerful Astros lineup during Monday's loss to Houston.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Ten games do not make a baseball season. But 10 games can tell a baseball story.

For the Red Sox, the last 10 games say so much, and none of it good.

Ten games against the Dodgers and Astros that illustrated, in full gory detail, the gap between true playoff contending teams and pretend playoff hopefuls.

As the calendar flips to September, the Sox head into the final four-plus weeks of the season by saying goodbye to their flickering postseason fantasy. Seven losses in the last 10 games, they are roadkill on the way to October, flattened by the surging defending World Series champion Astros and crushed by the 2020 champion Dodgers, now a mere four games over .500 (69-65) and 6½ games back of the final wild-card spot.

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Overall, the Sox were outscored 67-58 across these last 10 games, which looks far worse when the aberration of a 17-run outburst in the series finale in Houston is subtracted, making the difference 66-41. And even as that 17-1 victory last Thursday salvaged a 2-2 series split and sent the Sox back to Fenway with some hope, back-to-back series against the Dodgers and Astros again proved the Sox’ inability to take advantage of what slim opportunity they still had at hand.

They dropped two of three to Los Angeles amid the ongoing conversation around Mookie Betts and the lingering embarrassment of letting him go, and then got swept by the Astros, ending the homestand as a 1-5 debacle. After rebounding from an opening series loss to the Dodgers with a win Saturday night, the Sox stood only 3½ games back of the playoffs and relished the chance to gain more momentum. But a Sunday loss to LA led to a new embarrassing low on Monday, when the white flag of surrender (aka minor league reliever Kyle Barraclough) was waved in a loss to the Astros.

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Manager Alex Cora had plenty of logical defenses for letting Barraclough take a beating out of the bullpen in Monday’s 13-5 loss (a game the Sox had led by a run as late as the sixth inning), knowing it was as much a reflection on the shortcomings of the starting staff (On Wednesday, Kutter Crawford became the fifth straight starter to fail to make it through five innings) that had long since taxed an exhausted pen. But his logic only further proves that management was never truly serious about building a team to win this year, even while insisting out loud that it was.

Kutter Crawford threw 46 pitches through 2 and 2/3 innings on Wednesday.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“What happened [Monday] happens in the big leagues,” Cora said. “It just happens that people here care and they talk about it and it becomes news. But that happens everywhere.

“It sucks, right? Because you don’t want to put a player in that situation. It’s embarrassing for me because I’m the manager. But you have to do things for the benefit of the team.”

Of course it’s news, and not because we’re in Boston, but because Sox brass continually defended the 2023 roster as a believable playoff contender, then eschewed the chance to acquire new help at the trade deadline in favor of believing the return of injured players like Trevor Story, Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck would provide the boost.

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We all know how that’s turning out. The Sox limp into Kansas City losing five of their last six, seven of their last 10 and owners of an August record under .500 (13-15). They were swept for the seventh time this season and fourth time at Fenway Park, and gave up 10 or more hits in seven of their last eight games.

The Astros? Wednesday was their fifth straight win, a span in which they set a franchise-high with 78 hits, and marked the club’s first ever sweep at Fenway. Just a night after Alex Bregman described his team’s offense as “relentless,” it went out and proved it, scoring seven runs by the fourth inning of the series finale.

They left Boston having won seven of their last 10 games. Ten games that tell two different baseball stories. Simple math tells you that’s the inverse of the Red Sox. Baseball math tells you that’s the difference between an October team and an April one.

“I mean, we knew we had a tough challenge ahead of us, and losing all those games, it’s kind of a kick in the gut,” Crawford said after taking the loss. “It’s super frustrating. I know I’m probably not the only one that’s frustrated. As a staff, we need to be able to pitch deeper in the ball games. I obviously wasn’t able to do that today.”

Said Cora: “We didn’t pitch. That’s the bottom line. … We have not been getting deep enough and we’ve been paying the price the last 10 days.”

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The playoff percentage isn’t completely at zero, but it would take a miracle of epic proportions to rewrite this story, not simply a need for the Sox to find enough starting pitching, bullpen help, and defense to overcome their widening deficit for the final wild-card spot, but for other teams to fall back as well.

“I mean, there’s really no way to sugarcoat it, we [have] to turn this month over,” bright spot Adam Duvall said. “We [have] to have a really good September and just figure out how to start winning some ballgames. You know, there’s different ways we can do it. We just [have] to get some momentum going into this next month.”

Given these past 10 games, who would believe it?


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her @Globe_Tara.