Missing another weekend, 2019 Red Sox remain just a ‘maybe’

Losing 3 of 4 to Tampa represented another opportunity lost to show the mettle they'll need come year's end.

Mookie Betts Red Sox MLB
Something's been missing from Mookie Betts's bat this season, and he's far from alone on the Red Sox. –The Associated Press

COMMENTARY

A quick note: In the hours before this was written, not only was David Ortiz shot in the Dominican Republic, but social media propagated photos and videos of Ortiz arriving at the bar to begin his night, Ortiz literally being shot, Ortiz’s reported assailant being pummeled by witnesses, Ortiz’s plea to his doctors, him laying on the gurney … the happening, raw and real, for consumption as you wish. It is the reality of the time, the symptom of the era, however you want to term it based on however you view it. I will term it, quite simply, “a lot.”

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In this space this morning, we will stick to the baseball. Except for this: Our warmest thoughts on Ortiz’s continued recovery, which we hope everyone reading offers up as well.

About seven weeks from the trade deadline, the 2019 Red Sox are sixth in the American League, on an 83-win pace.

That can be taken a couple different directions. They’re on that pace after 11 weeks, with the next 43 games an ample canvas to salvage something from a 34-32 start. They’ve done nothing to disqualify themselves even from winning the division, not with a dozen games left against both the Yankees and Tampa. That nature of the baseball season — 30 teams cut to 10, a wild card game and three series needed to claim a title — is such that treading water for two and a half months is fine.

Thing is, though, at some point, you need to start that one-mile swim back in to shore. And the Red Sox punted their weekend with the Rays, just as they punted one with the Yankees, one with Cleveland, two with Houston …

“They made him work. He made himself work a little bit,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said on Sunday of last year’s AL Cy Young, Blake Snell. “But Blake’s a really talented pitcher. I know we like to nitpick kind of what he does or what he doesn’t do at times, but the bottom line is he’s got really good stuff, and he’s equipped to go out there and really give us a chance to win every single time.’’

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That “chance to win” was there for the home team as well, all weekend long. Last season, a team with runners on second and third and no one out scored an average of 1.9 runs in that inning. First and second with nobody out scored 1.5. On Sunday, the Red Sox got a grand total of 1, and lost 6-1.

On Friday, they went 15 up, 15 down, then loaded the bases with one out — usually a 1.6-run payoff. They got none in falling 5-1. Not that it would’ve mattered much on account of it already being 9-2, but the Sox squeezed a second-and-third, nobody-out situation into the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader. Their one win all weekend came via David Price, 5-1, who’s developing quite a knack for this.

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• On April 14, David Price shut out the Orioles for seven innings, Boston’s only win of a five-game stretch.

• On June 2, Price pitched into the seventh at Yankee Stadium to end a four-game losing streak.

Not only does he have the best starter’s ERA on the team by more than a run (2.70), his FIP edged ahead of Chris Sale’s. The two are delivering in a way their teammates simply aren’t, as that collective 5 for 36 with runners in scoring position makes plain.

Just 2 for 14 in a 5-3 loss at New York on June 1. A combined 3 for 18 in the pair of 4-3 losses at Houston, after 1 for 16 in the two losses to the Astros at Fenway.

“We keep addressing it, we keep talking about it,” Alex Cora said on Sunday. “It’s gameplanning. He made some good pitches too. But it’s gameplanning. We have to attack them as a group. And do little things — ground ball up the middle, make contact, all that stuff that helps you get the big inning. We haven’t done that in a while and we have to start doing it.”

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Every positive is undone by a larger negative. Price has stepped forward, while Eduardo Rodriguez continues to lack consistency and Nathan Eovaldi can’t get on the field. Xander Bogaerts is the same force he was a year ago, but both J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts have taken massive steps back from the forces of nature of 2018 — Martinez missed the whole weekend with back problems, and Betts is hitless in his last 15 chances with runners in scoring position.

Meanwhile, the Yankees weather a litany of injuries. The Rays have an offense unlike any in their history, a huge part of their start being unlike any in their history. Houston has the AL’s best bullpen, if not best staff overall. Minnesota has built a double-digit lead in the Central, and leads baseball in a slew of offensive categories.

They’ve all said something by mid-June. The Red Sox just keep kicking the can, where it now rests on four games with a Texas team they’re still chasing.

As of this morning, they’re 71.8 percent to make the playoffs, a clear choice over the Clevelands, Oaklands, Rangers, and even White Sox they’re swimming around with. June’s still a time to point at the positive peripherals, to not start thinking about crazy things like, “What could they get for a year and a half of Betts on the market” or “Do they really have the core they want for 2020?”

Maybe this will be the week they find that extra bullpen arm, or that third regularly reliable starter. Maybe this will be the week they’ll start again feeling like more than their parts.

Maybe. In mid-June, it remains the watchword of the defending champs, while the American League’s upper echelon coalesces without them.