Saturday, May 12, 2018

Game 38: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (May 11, 2018)

On a night when Chris Sale pitched nine full innings, didn't walk anyone, gave up only three runs, and struck out fifteen batters you'd think the Red Sox would have won the game, right? Well congratulations, you thought wrong. Because these are the 2018 Red Sox and they have an awful, awful bullpen. I had someone once again tell me I was an idiot because "the numbers" show that it's a top 5 bullpen in MLB. I challenge any of the analytics-heads to watch tonight's game and continue to argue that.  This was a Friday night after a long week at work and a rare night where I didn't have any practices or games to coach. All I wanted to do was relax and watch the game, so to have it pan out the way it did was not how I wanted to go into the weekend...

Beyond Sale's blistering performance, the Sox only managed to muster three runs and six hits against a good but not great starter in Toronto's Aaron Sanchez. The Sox struck early in the first when Mookie Betts scored, but the Jays got it right back in the bottom of the inning. Toronto pushed across another run to go up 2-1 in the second, but the Sox got two in the fourth including a solo home run to straightaway centerfield from Xander Bogaerts to take a 3-2 lead. That's where it stood until the bottom of the seventh when Sale gave up a solo shot to Toronto catcher Luke Maile, who hadn't hit a home run in a calendar year (literally...his last one was in May 2017).  It would remain knotted at 3-3 after the ninth inning. Some excellent defense by the Red Sox (including a textbook cutoff to throw Kevin Pillar out at third when he tried to stretch a double into a triple) kept the game tied up. Matt Barnes and Carson Smith both pitched scoreless innings in extras and the Sox had their chances a few times but couldn't get anything. At that point in the top of the twelfth inning, the camera cut to Brian Johnson warming up in the bullpen. I turned to my two oldest daughters who were watching the game with me and said "if he comes in, we're going to lose...he's terrible." Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Johnson walked the first batter on four pitches, none of which were even close. His next pitch, to Maile, resulted in the ball ending up on the other side of the centerfield fence. A two-run walkoff home run given up to a guy who hadn't hit any in a year before tonight. I can excuse the first one he hit off of Sale because, well, he's Chris Sale and he struck out fifteen; Brian Johnson gets no such benefit of the doubt. Ballgame over, Jays win 5-3.

The Red Sox missed a golden opportunity to go up a game in the division tonight with the Yankees losing earlier to the Athletics. Chris Sale seems to be afflicted with what Pedro Martinez suffered from: a lack of run support. When your starter only gives up 2-3 runs and is as dominant as Sale, you’d damn well better be winning the game. For those of you who have been fans before 2004, remember how many 2-1 and 3-2 games Pedro used to lose? That’s Chris Sale’s curse so far in his 1+ seasons as a Red Sox pitcher. To pitch the way he did and come away with a No Decision is a travesty.

More than that, though, this was another in a long string of games the bullpen has botched and lost for this team this season. This cannot continue to go on if the Sox want to remain World Series contenders. Carson Smith is actually rounding into form and Craig Kimbrel, despite his occasional hiccups, is an automatic save 99% of the time and one of the top closers in the league. It's the rest of the bullpen that is just consistently inconsistent and usually downright bad.  If you can't get the game from the starter to Kimbrel without giving up the lead, you don't have a bullpen, period. Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Joe Kelly...these guys have talent but they don't have the mental makeup to harness it in an effective way and time after time, watching them come on in relief is a rollercoaster ride that usually ends badly. At this point, there's nothing the Sox can do except to ride it out and hope that if/when Tyler Thornburg finally throws a major league pitch for the Red Sox that he'll be as good as he was before they traded for him. Since he's never thrown a pitch for the Red Sox, we don't know what we have in him yet, but I've got to believe it's better than what we currently have. Steven Wright is another guy who should be back from injury soon and could help. Right now, these are the only viable options the Sox have because the guys they have right now just aren't cutting it. At all.

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