Game 43: Oakland Athletics at Red Sox (May 16, 2018)

Heading into this game, I wanted to see two things: A) Chris Sale have another dominant pitching performance and B) the Red Sox avoid getting swept at home. Thankfully, the Sox won and avoided what would have been an embarrassing sweep at home, but Sale didn't look great (by his standards). It looked as though he was going to be the recipient of poor run support again before the team finally opened up a lead for him in the middle of the game. It was a rare night off for me, with no practices or games to coach, so after spending some time with my oldest at the cages getting some work in we got home and settled in to relax and watch the game.

On what was another cold and damp night at Fenway Park, Chris Sale pitched only five innings and really seemed to labor just to make it that far. He struck out nine, but also walked four and gave up a couple of runs. Nothing looked like it came easy for him and whether his control issues were caused by the weather or whether he was purposely nibbling around the plate the way Drew Pomeranz frustratingly does, Sale racked up a lot of pitches (80+ after four innings) and only went five. I know I hammer the Sox bullpen for their poor performance, and rightfully so as they've been maddeningly inconsistent, but at the same time I'll acknowledge that with the starters routinely only going 4-6 innings, the relievers are logging a lot of innings. Gone are the days of my youth (and before) when pitchers almost always went 6-8 innings and the relievers only had to pitch an inning or two. I'm not even that old (not quite 40) and pitching has changed so much since I was growing up. Guys throw fewer pitches, fewer innings, and yet they still seem to get hurt more often (and more seriously) than they used to. But I digress...after Sale left the game, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Joe Kelly came on in relief. One of these pitchers gave up a run on a solo homer...can you guess who? (Hint: his initials are H. H.). Given his track record, I'm not sure why Cora continues to put Hembree out there, but the fact of the matter is that he's an unreliable and mostly ineffective pitcher who I'd like to see a lot less of as the season goes on. No lead is safe from him, not even four runs. Craig Kimbrel came in for the ninth inning and picked up his 12th save, although he too gave up a solo homer. At least the Sox had built a large enough lead by then to withstand the two runs the bullpen gave up.

As for the offense, Hanley Ramirez started off the scoring for the Sox in the bottom of the first by driving Mookie Betts in, which was promptly followed by JD Martinez blasting a two-run homer to give the Sox an early 3-0 lead after one inning. JD has been red hot the last couple of weeks and I hope this is a sign of things to come as we head into the summer. If the Sox can get the kind of production out of him that he had last season, that would be a huge help. The A's got a couple of those runs back when Marcus Semien hit a two-run shot of his own in the third and it was starting to look like the Sox were just snakebitten against Oakland this season. Xander Bogaerts thankfully gave the Sox some much needed breathing room when he crushed a three-run homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the sixth to open up the lead to 6-2. It was a good thing, since Matt Joyce hit the aforementioned solo shot off of Hembree in the seventh and Matt Olson hit his in the ninth off of Kimbrel. The Sox held on to win 6-4, but personally it never felt like a comfortable win until the final out. For whatever reason, the A's have played the Red Sox incredibly tough this season, winning both series against them and finishing the season with a 4-2 record.

It certainly wasn't the way I'd hoped or expected the Red Sox to start off this homestand and it seems like a huge missed opportunity to pick up some games in the standings with the Yankees being constantly rained out this week (their game last night against Washington was suspended due to weather). As it stands right now, the Sox are a half game out of first and begin a four game series with the dreadful Orioles tonight (tonight was originally an off-day, but they're making up a rained out game from April). I know I've been saying it all season, but these games against the cellar dwellers are the ones the Sox need to win. Teams like the O's are the ones you should feast on to pad your record with wins so that you can go head to head with other contenders without needing to sweep every series just to stay in the race. After this four game set against Baltimore, the Sox play a series against Tampa Bay (again? This will be the fourth series against the Rays already this season!) who always play them tough, followed by three more series against very good teams in the Astros, Braves (I hate interleague play), and Blue Jays. Now that they've gone 12-12 since the 17-2 start, I'm hoping the Sox can shake out of this recent rut and get back to playing winning baseball on a consistent basis. There's no time better to start than tonight against Baltimore.