By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The 2019 Boston Red Sox season should go down as one of the great underperformances in sports history. Sunday afternoon provided the perfect picture of what’s wrong with this team.
It began with an absolutely brutal start from midseason acquisition Andrew Cashner. He managed to get just five outs after allowing nine men to reach base, throwing 24 strikes on 51 pitches. The 6-foot-6 right-hander carried with him a 9-3 record and 3.83 ERA this season when he joined Boston; he’s since gone 1-4 with an 8.01 ERA. The Red Sox are 1-5 when he has started.
This particular game also featured what would seem to be a rather random decision by manager Alex Cora to not only write the name Chris Owings on the lineup card but to write it at the top, in the leadoff spot. Owings was dumped by the Royals in June, when he was hitting .133 and had more than three times as many strikeouts as he did hits. But he had been playing well in Pawtucket, so Cora and the Red Sox rewarded him with the leadoff job on Sunday.
Owings rewarded the team by going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded in the second inning.
Cora also didn’t make his case for Manager of the Year when he oddly elected to call for Mookie Betts to get off the bench and into the game in the eighth inning — not to hit, but rather to pinch-run for Mitch Moreland at first base. Betts — who had been 4-for-10 with two doubles and a homer in the past two games against the Angels — never would reach second base. Christian Vazquez strangely decided to try to lay down a sacrifice bunt; he failed. Brock Holt then swung through a 94 mph fastball, leading to Betts getting thrown out by about seven feet on a failed hit-and-run.
Earlier in the game, after a one-out double, Rafael Devers decided to try to steal third base in the first inning. Likewise, he was out by plenty, stifling a potential early rally when the Red Sox trailed by a run.
With Cashner’s dreadful start, the bullpen was called upon to carry the load, a task that was dutifully handled for the most part by Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden and Nathan Eovaldi. For a while, anyway. Matt Barnes pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to hold a 4-3 Boston lead, but in the eight, he allowed a leadoff homer to Kole Calhoun, registering the 22nd blown save of the season for the Boston pitching staff. It was Barnes’ seventh blown save of the year, earning him the ignominious distinction of leading the American League in that category.
Ryan Weber, Boston’s sixth reliever called upon to work on the day, began his outing in the 10th inning with a four-pitch leadoff walk to Calhoun. The runner advanced to third base on consecutive ground-outs, before Weber surrendered a single to Anthony Bemboom, who was called up on Sunday to play in his fourth career Major League Baseball game.
Weber was sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket after the loss.
And in one last fitting encapsulation of the 2019 season, the Red Sox did get their big bats up in the bottom of the 10th, needing a run to stay alive and needing a pair of runs to walk off and take three of four from the Angels.
J.D. Martinez struck out. Andrew Benintendi singled. Betts popped out. Vazquez lasted just three pitches, striking out swinging to end the ballgame.
The loss moved the Red Sox to 7.5 games out of the second wild-card spot, a watch that is becoming increasingly less relevant with each passing series. This was a team that entered the All-Star break appearing to have figured something out, going 14-7 over 21 games and 5-1 over the final six games before the break. Since then, though, they’ve won just three of the nine series they’ve played in, and they haven’t won a series since going 3-1 against the Yankees at the end of July. An eight-game losing streak immediately followed that series victory.
And so now, there is this: The Boston Red Sox, one year after winning a franchise-record 108 games in the regular season, are on pace to win 84 games in 2019.
Based on how they continue to play, taking one step backward for each step taken forward, there’s no reason to believe they’ll do much of anything to veer off that pace one way or another.
One of the best teams in history, with 90 percent of the roster returning, is on pace to finish four games out of .500, far out of the playoff picture.
There’s just no way to properly explain that.
Certainly, losing Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly (who together combined to record 384 outs last season) put this year’s team at a disadvantage. But there’s no such thing as a closer — or any other player, for that matter — worth 24 wins. While a fall back to earth could have and should have been expected, and while the loss of Kimbrel could rightfully have led to four or five extra losses, a drop-off this severe falls squarely on the players on the field.
Rick Porcello’s ERA has grown year-to-year by almost a run-and-a-half. Chris Sale’s has grown by 2.3 runs. David Price, a rare “bright spot” in the rotation, has still seen his ERA grow by 0.78 runs.
Not that the offense is the “problem,” per se, but Betts has followed up his MVP season by having his OPS dip from 1.078 a year ago to .882 in 2019. J.D. Martinez has still largely delivered, but his numbers in 2019 nevertheless show a slight step back. Breakout seasons by Xander Bogaerts and Devers have helped power the Red Sox to having the second-best offense in the majors, but that’s a stat that has been skewed by a handful of games with an avalanche of runs, such as Friday’s 16-4 victory, or the 38 runs scored across three games against the Yankees in July. All too often, games look like Sunday’s, when the Red Sox went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base in a game they lost by a single run. Running into two extra outs on the basepaths didn’t help.
Failing to capitalize at home has been the final pillar of the 2019 Red Sox that was on display on Sunday afternoon. The loss dropped the Red Sox to 30-32 when playing at home this season, a year after posting a 57-24 record at Fenway Park.
Individually, each problem would stand as a potential hurdle to the 2019 Red Sox’ ability to win a World Series. But taken together, the problems up and down the roster, and from the front office to the manager’s office, have created the sense that before the team has even reached mid-August, it’s already starting to feel a whole lot like next year for the Boston Red Sox.