Game 159: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (September 26, 2018)

Well, that was a bit unexpected, wasn't it? After pummeling the Orioles into submission in the matinee, it seemed like it would be more of the same in the nightcap, especially with Chris Sale poised to make his final start of the season with no restrictions. Even with a bizarre empty-the-bench lineup put out there by Alex Cora, it didn't seem as though the Red Sox would have any trouble with the pathetic Orioles. Instead, the tables were turned and the O's returned the favor with a blowout of their own. It wasn't exactly what any Red Sox fans were predicting.

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I'll get it out of the way right now: it seems as though something truly is wrong with Chris Sale. The conventional wisdom since he went on the DL in July was that while there probably was some truth to the shoulder soreness, the Sox were just being overly cautious and shutting him down for some extended rest to end the season. He looked good, but not great, in his last couple of outings as they gradually ramped up his workload and the hope was that he would now hit the ground running and go as long as necessary in this final start. Instead, he looked slower than normal (topping out in the low 90s) and his command wasn't sharp. It was fairly evident from the beginning when Trey Mancini ripped an RBI triple off of him in the first. Baltimore added another run shortly after when Renato Nunez' sacrifice fly pushed Mancini home to give the birds a quick 2-0 lead. The Sox got one back in the bottom of the inning when Brandon Phillips, hitting with the bases loaded and two outs, poked a grounder to shortstop Jonathan Villar that was bobbled allowing Jackie Bradley to score. Tzu-Wei Lin (who has been swinging a good bat this past week) tripled in the fourth to drive in Sam Travis and tie the game at two runs, but Baltimore took the lead back in the fifth on Adam Jones' RBI double. The back and forth continued in the bottom of the fifth when Blake Swihart singled to drive in Rafael Devers and tie it at three. It seemed like it would be nip and tuck to the end, but the Boston bullpen showed up to ruin it all. Even against a lousy Orioles team, they couldn't hold the lead which doesn't inspire much confidence heading into the postseason. Matt Barnes gave up a two-RBI single right up the middle to Mancini in the seventh and then surrendered an RBI single to Nunez allowing the O's to go ahead by three runs. Things really fell apart in the ninth when Craig Kimbrel loaded the bases (with walks!) and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch. Then Robby Scott (why is he even on this team?) gave up two runs on a two-RBI double to John Andreoli and an RBI single to Steve Wilkerson. In the space of a few innings, the bullpen allowed a close 3-3 game to turn into a 10-3 blowout loss. The Sox were outhit 10-6 and seemed a bit tired which was surprising seeing as they had Tuesday off and will get to rest again Thursday. Yes, it was a meaningless game in a series the Sox had already won and they sat all of their starters except for Jackie Bradley (who sat in the first game), but still I would have expected a better showing from the team (mainly the bullpen). Eduardo Rodriguez made another appearance out of the pen and was excellent, striking out three without any walks or hits in his 1.1 innings of work. The big goats were Barnes, Kimbrel, and Scott. I'm not too fussed about Scott since he's not going to make the postseason roster anyway, but Barnes and Kimbrel are two of the best options out of the pen and both were atrocious. Barnes gave up three runs in 0.1 innings of work on four hits while Kimbrel was charged with four earned runs in 0.1 innings without giving up a single hit...but issuing three walks. Again, I realize this game means nothing but to be that bad against an Orioles team that has lost 112 games? That troubles me, as does Sale. Yes, he struck out eight and only walked one in his 4.2 innings, but he gave up three runs on four hits and most worrisome, his velocity was down. I'm hoping he was just being overly cautious and wanted to save his arm for the ALDS next week, but that's not typically his style and my fear is that something more serious is wrong with him. For now we can only wait and see what the Red Sox say about it (or if they say anything about it).

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The final series of the season (can you believe it?) begins on Friday when the Yankees come to town for three games. Clinging to a 1.5 game lead in the race to host the Wild Card play-in gimmick game (I hate this two team Wild Card system), I'd love to see the Red Sox try to win the season series (currently at 9-7 Red Sox) and do some damage to the Yankees in the standings. If the Sox could be the cause for the Yankees to have to travel cross country to Oakland for that game, it would be so delicious (he says with an evil grin). Rick Porcello, another guy who needs to get back into midseason form, will make his final regular season start and can hopefully help to make that a reality. My guess, though, is that Cora will ease off the throttle and manage these games the same way he's managed the last two weeks. It's not what I would do (or what I want to see), but it's not my call.