Red Sox

A fingers-crossed plan at the back of the Red Sox bullpen has left them broken

No more winnable games can be frittered away by this haphazard Red Sox bullpen.

Franchy Cordero of the Red Sox watches a home run soar over the bullpen.
The Angels were out of reach for Franchy Cordero and the Red Sox on Thursday. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

Thursday should have been a day to celebrate, even if the Red Sox ended it posterized.

Shohei Ohtanis don’t show up at Fenway Park to pitch every decade, and what he did Thursday in his first go here was everything a baseball diehard could’ve wanted. A genuine joy to watch for seven innings, and I’m barely including him ripping a single so hard off the Monster, it knocked his uniform number from the pitching slot in the linescore.

“I just hope that people understand,” Angels manager Joe Maddon rightfully told reporters, “how unusual it is what you’re seeing, and please never take it for granted.”

Twenty-nine misses on 64 swings. Forty-six of his 99 total pitches, which ranged from 100 mile-per-hour fastballs to finish the fifth to a 74 m.p.h. curveball to start the sixth, either a called strike or a swing and a miss.

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Eleven strikeouts, no walks, almost all of it coming in a scoreless game where the Red Sox, despite all that, had their chances. Six, to be exact, with runners in scoring position. For names you’d want to have them: J.D. Martinez and Trevor Story and Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo.

It ended 8-0, Angels. Even I can do that math, and even leaning into love of the game can’t save that tough swallow.

The Red Sox aren’t this bad, of course, but that makes this even harder. The Reds are 3-22 and also not that bad, but are they better enough that it’s worth worrying about? The Red Sox are. Their collective starters’ ERA is seventh in the majors, albeit with a below-average total of innings pitched.

To blow eight saves in 26 games, you have to actually be good enough to conjure up save chances in 11 of them. To do it when your offense is 24th in runs, 26th with runners in scoring position, hadn’t hit a home run in a late-and-close situation before Xander Bogaerts’ shot in the eighth on Wednesday . . .

I feel like the people running around Jurassic Park, marveling at the wonder of the dinosaurs right before a T. Rex bites their head off.

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Watching Alex Cora march around the dugout Thursday, trying to encourage his charges, it’s clear they feel it slipping like we do. A bad start makes a single bad day matter that much more, whether it’s Story flailing at fastballs all afternoon or the inevitable peek at the calendar and calculator.

It’s going to take .600 baseball the rest of the season — no small order in any division, never mind this AL East — to match last year’s 92 wins. And if you’ll recall, they needed every one of those.

That’s part of why Friday is, according to the Globe’s Alex Speier, bringing Jarren Duran to Fenway. With all due respect to the rehabbing Josh Taylor, were only an infusion of hope to the bullpen that easy.

I’m reminded of that old saying about hockey goalies in the playoffs: If you have two, you really have none. To only have five saves as the Red Sox do and somehow lead the majors in pitchers with a save with five . . . again, we’re yelling “that’s amazing” as the raptors chew our faces off.

The pick amongst Garrett Whitlock, Matt Strahm, Jake Diekman, Hansel Robles, and Matt Barnes is so obvious, even the consensus gets it. Whitlock in the rotation needs to end yesterday. No more winnable games can be frittered away.

To that end, the continued chances for Barnes to figure out his problems are noble, but obviously coming from a desperate place.

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“We have to keep working. We can’t give up on him. He’s very important to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cora told reporters Thursday, a day after the fastest pitch Barnes threw was 94.5 miles per hour, and ended up atop the Monster.

The UConn product was touching 98 on strikeouts as he ascended to his first All-Star Game last May. Chaim Bloom bet big on him last July; Barnes only might be here for the anniversary because there’s no one to fill his place.

It’s not that the Sox have a lack of good arms. I like the additions of Strahm and Diekman. Austin Davis hasn’t allowed a run in nine outings, fanning 15 of 38 hitters. Robles is authoring an eighth season where he can likely be trusted to eat 60 appearances at a league average level. You need those guys, and all of them have executed in big moments.

But you also need a rock at the end, and the Red Sox clearly didn’t plan on it being Whitlock. And this isn’t about not signing Kendall Graveman to a three-year deal or not giving Kenley Jansen $16 million. That’s a road to ruin far more times than it works.

But the Red Sox let Adam Ottavino walk to the Mets for $4 million. Ryan Tepera got two years and $14 million from the Angels. Perfect solutions? Clearly not.

Far better ones than crossing your fingers on Barnes and hoping you’ve got enough bodies behind him to luck into an answer. It’ll obviously work better should the bats arrive before National Flip a Coin Day — June 1, I’ve just learned!

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We might not care by then. Not when we don’t need to be the Bogaerts buddy cited in Jon Heyman’s report to also believe the shortstop is “going to leave” this winter.

Onward, I guess. Graveman, Liam Henriks, and the White Sox are in town this weekend for what should be just a cavalcade of flailing — they and the Red Sox are the only two teams swinging at more than half the pitches they’ve seen.

Not that you won’t have to work to see it: Friday’s game is an Apple TV+ exclusive, free if you feel like jumping through some easy-enough hoops. But who are we kidding here: It’s May 6, the Sox are in last place, and the Bruins face a must-win. It’s a pretty easy skip.

See that? Things are looking better already.

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