Game 41: Oakland Athletics at Red Sox (May 14, 2018)

After coaching my son's baseball game in sweltering heat and humidity (and it's only mid-May!), it was time to relax and catch the Sox as they opened a new series against the A's. I got home and turned the game on in the fourth inning after following the game via phone updates from the ballfield. This was a prime opportunity to start off the short homestand with a win against a mediocre opponent and to get some revenge on A's starter Sean Manaea for no-hitting the Sox back in April. However, by the time I turned the game on in the fourth, the Sox were already trailing 4-2 and the lead would remain just out of their grasp for the rest of the game.

Undefeated 2018 Rick Porcello looked more like 2017 Rick Porcello in this game when he gave up a first inning home run to Matt Joyce, but thankfully Andrew Benintendi tied it in the the third with an RBI single to drive in Mookie Betts. The Sox even took the lead when Hanley Ramirez drove in Benintendi with an RBI single of his own. Unfortunately, the 2-1 Red Sox lead was short lived and would be their only one of the night. A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy smacked a two-RBI double the next inning to put the A's ahead for good and Dustin Fowler then hit a triple to drive in Lucroy. This was the moment I got home and turned the game was 4-2 Oakland and they'd never trail again. The Sox kept chipping away, but every time they pulled within a run Oakland would add another to increase the lead back to two. Hanley drove in a run in the fifth to make it 4-3, but Matt Olson hit a solo homer the next inning to make it 5-3. Rafael Devers hit a solo homer in the seventh to make it 5-4, but the next inning Khris Davis hit a solo homer (on the very first pitch Carson Smith threw) to make it 6-4. Can you see where this is going? In the bottom of the eighth JD Martinez hit a solo homer to make it 6-5, but the Sox couldn't do anything after that and went very quickly to finish that inning and the ninth. The final score was 6-5 and with the Yankees idle, the Sox now sit a half game out of first place.

Rick Porcello was handed his first loss of the season and didn't look particularly sharp. He pitched six innings and struck out five without walking any, but he also gave up nine hits and five earned runs which is just dismal. He was due for a bad start after his hot start and this was it. As for the always shaky bullpen, the script was flipped this game with Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson surprisingly effective while but Carson Smith was not. Smith's very first pitch Khris Davis was belted over the fence for a homer that ended up being the difference in the game, once again showing how this bullpen has cost them games and will continue to do so until something drastically changes. As for the offense, while scoring five runs is fine, the aggressiveness at the plate that has served them so well thus far seemed to be detrimental this game. They gave Oakland a lot of easy 1-2-3 innings by hacking away at the first pitch or when they were early in the count. It was just one game so it's nothing to be concerned overly about, but it was definitely noticeable. Everyone got at least one hit except for Xander Bogaerts (who has definitely cooled down after coming back from his injury) and Blake Swihart who started at DH. What to make of Swihart? He went 0-4 and looked bad each and every at bat. Going back a few years, I've never been particularly high on the guy...he was never good enough defensively as a catcher to play in the big leagues and his bat was never enough to compensate. The reason he's even on the team taking up a roster spot this season has been confusing as it's apparent Cora has zero confidence in him as a catcher or even as a substitute outfielder. He's also not really needed at DH with Hanley and JD flip-flopping in that spot. So why is he even on the team? If it's simply because he's out of options, that seems a pretty poor reason given that it's a spot that could be better used for another legitimate bat off the bench (or even a serviceable reliever). I don't know the reasons but I hope we don't see him in the lineup  unless he's our absolute last resort.

After the 17-2 start, the Sox seem to be settling into the same kind of aggravating ball they've played the last two seasons: stretches where they look unbeatable alternating with stretches where they seem to sleepwalk. Realizing that it's a long season and you can't win them all, it's still unacceptable to me that they would open a homestand against a middling team (Oakland was 19-21 before the game) with such a flat performance. The Yankees have been beating up on good teams (albeit while playing the most home games in the majors so far) while the Sox have been struggling with the middle and lower tier teams. I've no doubt they'll bounce back (hopefully starting tonight), but it sure is frustrating seeing a team this talented sstruggling to play consistent baseball after that hot start. Since the no-hitter in Oakland that stopped their 17-2 start, the Sox have played .500 ball with an 11-11 record. We now know they weren't really as good as 17-2, but they're also not as bad as 11-11. We're a quarter of the way through the season, so it's time for them to put it all together on a daily basis and play up to the level of their talent, not down to the level of their competition.