It is beyond clear that the bullpen cannot be trusted to hold a lead late in a game.
When a team is playing well, it seems to find ways to win ball games it might otherwise be expected to lose. The reverse is also true; slumping teams sometimes find uncanny ways of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A Red Sox recent road trip, which ended with a disastrous record of three wins and seven losses, was a perfect example of that. Let's take a look at each of those losses and how the Sox managed to turn possible, even probable, wins into losses.
Loss #1: The Red Sox took a 2-0 in the top of the 10th inning, but in the bottom of the 10th, a Trevor Story error gave the Tampa Bay Rays an extra out and allowed Taylor Walls to reach base with the potential tying run. Then, with two outs, Kevin Kiermaier hit a walk off home run for a Tampa Bay win, 3-2.
Loss #2: The Red Sox started fast with two runs in the top of the first, then did nothing the rest of the game, as they fell to the Rays again. 5-2.
Loss #3: The Red Sox tied the Blue Jays with a pair of runs in the top of the eighth but quickly gave it away when Bo Bichette hit a grand slam in the bottom of the inning. Blue Jays 6 Red Sox 2.
Loss #4: The Red Sox led, 5-2, in the ninth inning but the Blue Jays tied it in the last of the ninth, led by a George Springer homer. Then, they won it on a sacrifice fly in the 10th, 6-5.
Loss #5: The mighty Baltimore Orioles cobbled together three singles to score a run in the third inning against Garrett Whitlock. That's all they got, but it was enough. They beat the Red Sox and their slumbering bats, 1-0.
Loss #6: In the 10th inning, Robinson Chirinos bunted straight back to reliever Hirokuza Sawaruma, who had base runner Jorge Mateo out on a force by 20 feet at third, but Sawaruma heaved his throw well over the head of Rafael Devers as Mateo jogged home with the winning run. 2-1.
Loss #7: The Red Sox finally lost one the old fashioned way. They got pummeled by the Orioles, 9-5. The game wasn't even that close, as J.D. Martinez hit a grand slam in the ninth, after it was a lost cause. A lowlight was when base runner Christian Vazquez forgot how many outs there were when the game was still scoreless and cost the Sox a run.
It is beyond clear that the bullpen cannot be trusted to hold a lead late in a game. The team is 0 and 5 in extra inning games this season. In each of those games, the Sox had the lead in the eighth inning or later, only to lose in the end. They have no closer and don't appear close to finding one. It's been ugly. With a decent bullpen, they could very well have finished the road trip with a seven and three record instead of the other way around.
On offense, they are not getting the job done, either. In the outfield, for example, left fielder Alex Verdugo, after getting off to a good start, has faded to an average of only .217; Kike Hernandez is only hitting .189 in center, and in rightfield Jackie Bradley, Jr. is at .200. At first base, Bobby Dalbec is at .147 with only one homer; Trevor Story, signed to a big contract because of his bat, is hitting only .210 with no home runs. Catcher Christian Vazquez is batting .208. Only Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J. D. Martinez are hitting well, and Martinez and Bogaerts will be free agents at the end of this season. Devers after 2023. They could all be playing somewhere else sooner rather than later.
We keep telling ourselves that it's all just a slump; that they'll soon be playing winning baseball once again. We have to tell ourselves that because the alternative is pretty scary.
The dreaded Yankees, during the Sox slump, were in the midst of an 11-game winning streak while the Red Sox were flailing about. Their right fielder, Aaron Judge, and first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, are tied for the league lead in home runs with nine each. (The Red Sox team leader, Rafael Devers, has only four.) The Yanks have opened up an eight-and-a-half game lead on the Red Sox, who are now in a tie for last place with the Orioles in the American League East.
It's still early in the season, but that's a lot of games to make up. Losses in April and May count as much in the standings as they do in September, and the Red Sox have been wracking up a lot of them.
Remember Andrew Bennintendi, the former Boston left fielder? When last we saw him he seemed to have totally lost his way at the plate with an average of just .103. He seems to have finally found it again with the Kansas City Royals, where he is currently hitting .354. It makes you wonder: Why can't we get guys like that?
Baseball is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, slumps and hot streaks. There is no telling when one may suddenly appear, or just as mysteriously vanish into thin air. Veterans of the game will tell you that the secret is not to get too high when things go well or too low when they go poorly. It's easier said than done. The Red Sox are going through a very rough patch right now.They have to keep their heads down and keep their spirit up. Things will eventually get better. The only question is, will it be in time to save the season?
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.