By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The pieces were in place for the Red Sox to secure a series victory over the Angels on Wednesday night. The starter pitched well, the offense delivered timely hits, the middle relievers did enough, and the Red Sox stood three outs away from a second straight win.

Then, the bullpen happened. And as they have too many times this season for the Red Sox, things went sideways.

Admittedly, the task for Hansel Robles in the ninth inning was no picnic, as the de facto-closer-because-there’s-nobody-else-to-fit-the-bill-aside-from-the-guy-who-started-this-particular-game had to face Taylor Ward, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani while protecting a one-run lead. It started on a promising note, with Ward striking out on a breaking ball in the dirt before Trout fell behind 0-2. But then Robles lost the strike zone, throwing balls on 10 of his next 12 pitches. Trout and Ohtani both walked before Robles got the second out, giving way to Jake Diekman, who immediately surrendered a game-tying single to Jared Walsh.

That blown save, though, was merely the appetizer, as things got a whole lot messier in the 10th. Matt Barnes — whose late-season struggles have carried right on into this year — got two quick outs before serving up a home run to Ward, scoring the automatic runner and giving the Angeles a two-run lead.

Barnes then allowed a single to Trout before walking Ohtani and exiting the game. Hirokazu Sawamura put a bow on it by giving up an RBI single to Anthony Rendon and then a three-run home run to Walsh, giving the Angels a 10-4 lead and stunning just about everybody in the ballpark.

Both Austin Davis and Diekman picked up blown saves in the game, while Barnes took the loss. (In an example of statistics telling imperfect stories, Robles did record a hold for his work in the ninth.)

Clearly, not having a closer is not the most sustainable way of life for the Red Sox. And Barnes — the man who dominated in that role from April through July last year before falling apart — is feeling a bit responsible for the current predicament.

“I’ve been terrible,” Barnes said after the loss, per The Boston Globe. “I mean, let’s just call a spade a spade, right? So I got to figure my [stuff] out. And we’re going to get there. I’m working on it every day and feeling better every day. The results are terrible, but we’re not going to stop.”

The latter part of that statement remains yet to be seen, but nobody would argue with the former portion. Barnes’ ERA ballooned from 5.87 to 8.64 on Wednesday, with his WHIP climbing to 1.680. Everyone is wondering what happened to the Barnes who had a 2.40 ERA and a 0.800 ERA from Opening Day through Aug. 7 last year. Velocity figures to be one issue, as Fangraphs has his fastball and curveball a full 2 mph slower this year than they were last year.

Barnes admitted that the lower velocity has made it harder to get outs, but the complete dissolution from All-Star closer to unusable big league pitcher still defies explanation to this point.

Perhaps the Red Sox will patch the back end of their bullpen by putting Garrett Whitlock back there. He pitched five highly effective innings as a starter in this game, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out nine Angels. He has a 1.50 ERA across 12 innings since temporarily sliding into the rotation, but the Red Sox are also 0-3 in those games. They had been 3-1 in games where Whitlock pitched prior to that change.

Yet even if Whitlock becomes the super-reliever/closer hybrid that he seems capable of being, it still leaves the Red Sox plugging one hole and creating another.

That’s why, in an ideal world, Matt Barnes would figure his [stuff] out. Ultimately, Hansel Robles is Hansel Robles, and Jake Diekman is Jake Diekman, and whoever else gets a shot on the back end likely won’t be an All-Star closer. Even if Barnes can’t fully rediscover what it was that made him a dominant closer last year, he needs to at least figure out how to be the effective reliever he was from 2017-20. If he doesn’t, the Red Sox just cannot and will not have a complete pitching staff.