By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There is still a lot of baseball to be played. A lot of baseball.
That is a good thing for the Boston Red Sox. Or, if they keep playing the way they have to start the season, it could be a really, really bad thing for the Boston Red Sox.
The season is not getting any better for the defending World Series champs, who fell to 6-13 on the season after Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees. By comparison to the rest of Boston’s losses, 5-3 doesn’t look all that painful.
But that 5-3 loss was indeed very painful.
The Red Sox got their first quality start from Nathan Eovaldi, who always seems to take things up a notch against the Yankees. He tossed six strong innings, allowing just one unearned run while striking out six. It’s the first time this season Eovaldi has looked like the guy who was dominant during last year’s World Series run.
Boston carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning, when manager Alex Cora turned to his bullpen to lock down the much-needed win. He first went to Brandon Workman, who put up zeroes in his eight prior appearances. But Workman promptly loaded the bases with a single and two walks (with a strikeout in the middle), forcing Cora to go to Ryan Brasier. Like Workman, Brasier also got off to a great start to the season, allowing just one run in his eight prior appearances.
That all changed with one swing of the bat, as Brett Gardener took the occasional Boston closer yard for a grand slam on an 0-2 meatball down the plate. A 3-1 lead quickly turned into a 5-3 deficit, which was more than enough for the Yankees against Boston’s feeble offense.
In a season full of frustrating losses, Wednesday night’s will take its spot somewhere near the top of the list. The Red Sox finally got a solid performance out of their starter, only to have the bullpen blow it. The Red Sox just can’t play complementary baseball this season; when the offense scores four runs, the pitching gives up six (or more). When the pitching staff does their job, the offense takes a nap.
The Boston offense features seven players hitting under .250, including reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts, who checks in at .200 after going hitless in his last 10 at-bats. J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts are the only two hitters doing any consistent damage this season (Mitch Moreland also deserves some honorable mention for his five homers).
The starting pitching has been even worse. David Price is the only starter with an ERA under 6.00 at 3.79. Collectively, Chris Sale, Eovaldi, Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez tout an ERA of 7.07.
Throw it all together and it is not great recipe for success.
The Red Sox have now played six series this season and they haven’t won any of them. The best they could do was a four-game split with the Orioles and a two-game split with the Blue Jays. Both of those series were played at Fenway Park, where a 3-3 record against two of the worst teams in baseball (other than the Sox, that is) is unacceptable. So too is a two-game sweep to their rivals in New York, who currently have 12 players on the injured list.
It’s baffling that a team that cruised to a franchise record 108 wins last season, plus another 11 in the playoffs, is so horrendous a year later. Boston returned most of their 2018 roster, but look nothing like the team that was 17-2 at this point last year. No one expected the 2019 Red Sox to get off to such a blistering start again, but we also didn’t expect them to look like the Bad News Bears. This team certainly could use a Tanner Boyle right now to give them a kick in the backside.
Instead, they head to St. Petersburg for a three-game series against the first-place Rays. Tampa Bay isn’t just in first place in the AL East, 8.5 games up on the last-place Red Sox, but the best team in baseball.
“We’ve got to go down there and win the series, that’s the most important thing,” a still upbeat Alex Cora said after Wednesday night’s debacle. “You win two out of three, or you sweep them and you move on. That’s the goal in every series. We haven’t done it yet. It would be a good time to do it in [St. Petersburg].”
With 143 games left, there is still plenty of time for Boston to turn it around. While “It’s still early” is no longer a viable excuse, it’s still not time to panic just yet. But with every loss, with every dropped series, it’s inching closer and closer.