Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Successful Road Trip That Didn't Feel That Way

The Red Sox came off a road trip that saw them go 7-4 in 11 games from Cleveland to Baltimore to Detroit to St. Petersburg. I was hoping they could go 6-5 on the road. So why did it seem when it concluded it was like a real downer?

They raced off to three wins in the games against the Indians and Orioles, and extended a winning streak to six games. They looked like they might be catching fire (finally). But John Farrell singly cost the Sox the streak when he thought bringing in a washed-up Junichi Tazawa was a good idea in the eighth inning of a 3-1 game against the Tigers.

But still it appeared the Sox righted the ship, taking two of the last three games in Detroit, and winning the first two games against Tampa Bay. They were 7-2 on the road trip and it felt like an overwhelming success.

Then they lost the last two games against the Rays, and that problem that has plagued this team most of the year reared its ugly head yet again: failure with the bases loaded.

The Sox left runners everywhere on Wednesday's 4-3 11-inning loss. But Thursday's was even more infuriating. Drew Pomeranz pitched a solid game, going six innings, striking out 11. He allowed two runs and took the loss. In the sixth inning, the Sox loaded the bases with no outs, but came away with just one run, on Mookie Betts' sac fly. Hanley Ramirez walked, but Jackie Bradley, who has been in a prolonged slump, hit the first pitch into a DP to kill the inning.

As I write this, the Red Sox are an absolutely anemic 4-for-their-last 32 with the bases loaded. And they are hitting an astoundingly bad .212 on the season when the bases are full. (The league average is .262.) How can a team that is at the top of nearly all the major offensive team hitting categories be so bad in those situations? Only Tampa Bay is worse at .207. Can you imagine where the Sox would be if they were just at the league average with the bases loaded? Three or four games leading the AL East, in my opinion.

I was watching last night's game on NESN, and when the Red Sox had the bases loaded in the first (and they naturally scored just once, while two hitters struck out), Dave O'Brien may have said it best: "The Red Sox have the bases loaded, something Red Sox Nation doesn't want to hear right now." And by the way, can you remember the last time ANYONE on the Sox got a bases-clearing double? Hard for me to recall right now.

Andrew Benintendi's knee injury on Wednesday night also cast a pall on the end of the road trip. He made a base running goof that led to him being tagged and he awkwardly injured his left knee in the process. It landed him on the DL, but it appears he suffered no structural damage to the knee, and the Sox hope he will return some time in September.

One of the positives of the recent trip is that the starting pitching was excellent, and with one exception (Henry Owens getting hit hard in Detroit), it has become a strength for the Sox. But ominously, the offense slumped late in the trip against last-place Tampa Bay (just six runs scored in the last three games). You can chalk that up to the weariness of the long trip. But another nine-game trip that begins on the west coast next Friday is looming large. It's against two of the lesser lights in baseball (Oakland and San Diego).

The standings this morning show the Sox in second place, one game out of first place from Toronto. They lead the first Wild Card position by one game, so they are still in good shape right now. But a September that finds them on the road more than at home, and mostly against AL East clubs, will tell the final story of 2016. And they better find a way to drive in runs when they count.

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