Opportunity knocked against the Dodgers, and the 2019 Red Sox let it pass once again

With a chance to start the second half firing, we got basically the same stuck-in-second-gear group from the first half.

Hector Velazquez gave up Sunday's losing run on a bases-loaded walk, but the game never should have gotten to him.
Hector Velazquez gave up Sunday's losing run on a bases-loaded walk, but the game never should have gotten to him. –The Associated Press

COMMENTARY

Against the best team in baseball, the Red Sox blew doors on Friday, their ace blew up on Saturday, and they blew it on Sunday. Twelve hours of baseball, in the best atmosphere of the season. Not quite all it was hyped, but plenty entertaining all the same.

Whether they won three or one or zero, the stage was going to look largely the same this morning. As it stands, the Sox stand 50-43 — an 87-win pace by straight math, but Fangraphs still has them a 90-win team and essentially a tossup to win the second wild card from Cleveland. Both trail Oakland at the moment, the Sox by a full 2 ½ games, but it’s the middle of July, and we’re all just simulating based on the data we’ve collected, aren’t we?

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In essence, the computers think the talent will win out. The Red Sox are better than Cleveland. They’re better than Oakland. They’re better than 50-43, and they still have 69 games to prove that — the next seven of which are against AL East dregs Toronto and Baltimore, the 14 after that against Tampa Bay and the Yankees.

Those are the things that reality tells you. Those are the caveats. But they aren’t really the story, either.

The story this season, the story every season, is that great teams win games. The baseball gods, the fates, whatever your nomenclature, however much you understand of the why or the how, run the only simulation that matters and tell you who’s great.

This Red Sox team hasn’t much felt great by the middle of July, has it?

Eduardo Rodriguez was electric on Friday, getting 22 swings and misses from a team that doesn’t swing and miss. The oft-maligned bullpen held the best offense in the National League to three hits and two walks for six innings on Sunday. (And, with Andrew Cashner‘s arrival, they’re getting Nate Eovaldi.)

Xander Bogaerts went 6 for 12 with three homers in the three games. Rafael Devers had an 1.189 OPS, including a “take that, shift” bunt single.

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They can hang with the best, if that was in doubt. On Friday night, homers in the first two innings off Kenta Maeda and a late pile-on, with hard contact from almost the whole lineup.

“We have the ability to do even better than that,” Bogaerts told reporters.

“It’s just a matter of going out there and start doing it on a consistent basis,” Alex Cora said. “It starts with the rotation.”

On Saturday, Ross Stripling — an All-Star last season, yes, but a guy who hadn’t thrown five full innings in three months — outpitched Chris Sale. Sale went from 98 miles per hour in the first inning to below 95 after the second, and didn’t get a single swing-and-miss on his fastball among the last 29 he threw.

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“I was just kind of feeling like I was all over the place with my delivery and arm action,” Sale said. “I’m just trying to figure it out.”

Then Sunday, David Price was victimized by some bad luck: The three balls hit against him in falling behind 3-0 had expected batting averages (based on velocity and angle and the like) all .050 or below. The first home run he’d allowed in six weeks went all of 326 feet.

He also had 31 pitches fouled off, 25 coming with two strikes. That’s why he only lasted five innings, one out more than Boston’s other big-money starting ace.

“Whenever I have the opportunity to put somebody away,” he told reporters, “I haven’t been able to do that in the past two or three weeks.”

It shouldn’t have mattered on Sunday, not after Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez set Fenway ablaze in the eighth. They had the two hardest-hit balls of the night. Martinez alone had three of the 10 hardest.

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“I thought we were going to win that game,” Price said.

Christian Vazquez, Andrew Benintendi, and Michael Chavis, all up after the game was tied by those homers in the eighth. Leadoff walk, and first and second for both Devers and Bogaerts in the ninth. Vazquez on second for Brock Holt in the 10th. A leadoff double, first and second for Bogaerts, then bases loaded for Martinez in the 11th.

I won’t get into the slew of questionable decisions surrounding those eight at-bats, though they’re certainly deserved. I’ll simply note:

Strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, soft-ish line out, strikeout, strikeout, the aforementioned hardest-hit ball of the night, ground out.

Bad luck that Chris Taylor corralled that Bogaerts infield single and kept it from scoring the winner? Sure. The rest weren’t.

They ended a blinding neon opportunity to stake their claim to the second half with another wishy-washy kick of the can down the road. They got one good start out of three, same as they have all season. They won one of the three big, they lost one of the three big, and they essentially played the other to a draw.

“I think at times they’ve been inconsistent, but the talent’s still there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said early in the series. “They’re a dangerous club regardless of how they’re playing.”

Dave’s a nice man. He’s not wrong, either. That’s the reality he’s spouting.

You’ve watched the games, though, and with a regular season loaded with this much chaff — baseball hardly needs 162 games if they’re going to merely trim down from 30 teams to 10 for the playoffs — so much of what we see is there to help us decide how much we care. Is this a group worth fretting over? A group who’s going to win that Sunday game almost every time as opposed to lose it?

Worth sticking out five hours and 40 minutes on a work night? Worth investing in?

We’re 93 down, 69 to go. Anything’s possible in October, if you get there.

What do you think this morning?