Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Game 29: Kansas City Royals at Red Sox (May 1, 2018)

I know it's still early in the season and the Red Sox are in good shape in terms of their record, but this was a bad loss. With Chris Sale starting and buoyed by the win the night before, I figured this game would be a relative cakewalk for the Sox, but as I've learned with this team over the last 30+ years, it's never safe to assume that. I coached my son's rec ball team so it was the sixth inning by the time I got home and turned the game on, but I managed to sneak peaks at my phone updates and saw that the Sox went down into yet another early hole by spotting the Royals two runs through the first six innings. Luckily, in that inning Mitch Moreland continued swinging the hot bat by belting another home run (a solo shot) followed by Jackie Bradley driving in a run later in the inning so the Sox could tie it up. In the seventh, Andrew Benintendi (who had a nice night going 3-6 at the plate) was able to advance to third base and then scored on a wild pitch to give the Sox the lead, 3-2. At that point it looked like they'd wrapped up the win, but shockingly Craig Kimbrel blew another save by giving up a solo homer to Alex Gordon in the top of the ninth to let the Royals tie the game at 3. I couldn't believe it and just shook my head as the game headed into extra innings. Kansas City managed to take the lead 4-3 in the top of the twelfth, but in the bottom of the inning Eduardo Nunez belted a homer over the Green Monster to tie the game up. I had to be careful not to cheer too loudly as by this time it was pretty late and my kids were asleep. The Sox had kept fighting back and I thought that this was the moment they'd finally win the game. Heading into the thirteenth inning I felt good about their chances...if they could get three outs and then scratch out a run, it would be game over, but then Brian Johnson happened. As has been his norm in nearly all of his relief appearances this season, he was awful. When he gave up a three-run homer to Jorge Soler in the top of the inning, I threw my hands up in disgust. Apart from Kimbrel, the bullpen has been hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best bad going back to 2016, but this was downright embarrassing. While the Sox managed to claw their way back and score a couple of runs in the bottom of the inning, it was too little too late and they went down with the 7-6 loss.

With the Yankees winning in Houston, the division lead is now down to two games. More troubling, the Sox are 4-6 in their last 10 since the hot 17-2 start and they've looked mediocre overall. There are several causes for concern: Sale has not looked sharp since the season opener, the bullpen has been shaky at best, Brian Johnson has been absolutely terrible, and the offense has been inconsistent. However, for the most part the bats have done their job so far this season. It's the pitching that has let the team down more than anything. The starting rotation that looked so good during the first few weeks has now put the Sox behind early in nearly every game over the last ten and while they've managed to fight back and score runs, far too often the bullpen gives the lead right back as they did last night. You can only come back so many times before the law of averages starts to get the better of you.

Make no mistake, it's still only the beginning of May and the Sox are in first place. There are 133 games over five more months of baseball to play and the Sox are one of the top four or five teams in the entire league. But, and that's a big but, there are some worrying things the need to be corrected in short order for them to go toe-to-toe with Houston or New York and have a chance to contend. Chief among them is the bullpen needing to be better, although given how it's been pretty much the same personnel over the last few seasons I'm not sure how that happens, whether they magically get better or some new arms are added,. For better or worse, the Sox are stuck with who they have. Yes, Tyler Thornburg could potentially be back and could help, but he's an unknown quantity on this team having never thrown a meaningful pitch for Boston. Dave Dombrowski has done a good job putting this team together except for the bullpen, and honestly it's inexcusable that he's basically ignored that festering wound of a problem for going on three years now. If things don't change, it is going to come back to bite this team badly at an inopportune time. 

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