Game 132: Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays (August 26, 2018)

Those of us Red Sox fans who are old enough to remember what it was like pre-2004 aren't surprised by this swoon the team is going through right now. For the younger generation, all they know is the Red Sox as perennial winners who always in contention and willing to spend whatever it takes to get there. Those of us who are older (say, 35 and above) know that this is a new development and that it was never like this before the current ownership group bought the team in the early 2000s. All of this is to set up the point that even though that the Red Sox are currently in a little bit of a slump, it shouldn't be entirely surprising or unexpected regardless of how great a season they're having. It's a long season and it's happened many times before.

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That being said, I think I join the rest of Red Sox Nation in being disappointed and a little concerned at their play over the last couple of weeks. I was mostly okay with the split against Cleveland because the Indians are a very good team. I didn't necessarily expect the Sox to sweep Tampa (although I would've loved for that to have happened) because the Rays are talented and playing great ball right now. I did think the Sox would win the series and after last night I at least thought they'd avoid the sweep. Wrong and wrong. What happened today was one of the poorest showings this Red Sox team has had all season. The fact that it's taken until late August for them to have a spell like this is a testament to how great they've been all season, but it only takes the sting out of it a little bit. Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi was coming off a string of bad starts after a great beginning to his Red Sox career and was up against Rays All-Star Blake Snell. Additionally, both JD Martinez and Andrew Benintendi had scheduled rest days, so Alex Cora's lineup was a lot weaker both in the field and at the plate. This was borne out early when the Rays plated two in the bottom of the first: Ji-Man Choi hit an RBI single and was followed shortly by Jake Bauers' sacrifice fly. Tampa continued to pour it on, first with Tommy Pham's RBI single in the third and and then Kevin Kiermaier's two-RBI triple (his second triple in as many games). Matt Duffy hit a sac fly in the fourth to make it 6-0 and by then it was getting ugly for Boston. The Sox finally got on the board in the sixth when Mookie Betts' sac fly drove Sandy Leon in, but for the second game in a row a single run was all the Sox would get. Duffy doubled in a run in the bottom of the sixth and Michael Perez drove two more in with a double the next inning to make it 9-1 Rays. That's how the game would end and with it, the sweep was complete. The Sox were outhit 12-3 and looked atrocious at the plate: only Betts, Eduardo Nunez, and Jackie Bradley had hits. Eovaldi was just as bad, giving up six runs on eight hits in four innings (although he did strike out five batters without walking any). The bane of my existence this season, Heath Hembree, coughed up the two runs in the sixth while Matt Barnes was the culprit in the seventh in giving up the final Tampa run. File this game (and this series) under one to forget.

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The Red Sox have a day off Monday which should be used for a mental health day as much as it should be used to rest any physical ailments. There follow two consecutive series against cellar dwelling teams (Miami and the Chicago White Sox) which should hopefully help the Sox get back on track as they head into September, because the final month of the season is going to be a veritable gauntlet of playoff teams. The Braves, Astros, Indians, and Yankees (twice) all remain on the schedule with only a few cupcakes thrown in (the Mets, Blue Jays, and Orioles). If the Red Sox are going to hold on to the division and finish with the best record in the majors, they'll need to fatten up on the bad teams so that they can go toe-to-toe with the other American League heavyweights. The angst and tension will no doubt get ratcheted up with each win or loss, but I'll be damned if it won't be fun to watch all the way through to the end of the season.