Red Sox

Logical or not, late-inning disaster is the defining characteristic of these Red Sox

They're really exploring the ruining-our-summer space, aren't they?

Rafael Devers strikes out, falls to one knee.
Rafael Devers had three of Boston's nine hits on Sunday, but it wasn't enough to prevent a fifth straight loss. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff


This? This can’t continue. The Red Sox might be better. They might be worse. (Honest. It could be so much worse.)

But this is mind-bending.

“They were all really intense, tense, stressful games,” Chicago manager Tony La Russa told reporters after his team swept a three-game series at Fenway Park with all of 10 total runs. “They hit some balls hard. Their time is coming. They’re too good.”

It’s nice to hear someone not currently paid by the Red Sox say it. And while I would normally question the judgment of a 77-year-old man who dresses in a full baseball uniform every day, I think he’s on to something.


Consider: I happened to be in the car Sunday afternoon while the Red Sox staged their one daily rally. In the sixth, single, single, RBI groundout, and a Christian Vázquez single off Dallas Keuchel, who I swear was getting cracked around at a .343 clip this season before pitching at Fenway Park on Mother’s Day.

Likely sharing our collective wonder at it, WEEI’s Will Flemming immediately noted it was the first time the Red Sox had scored multiple runs in an inning since Wednesday. Wednesday having been the start of their current five-game losing streak, via a six-run Angels 10th inning that meant it wasn’t one of Boston’s 11 losses by two runs or fewer.

Eleven, by the second week of May. They’re really exploring the ruining-our-summer space, aren’t they? Testing the variety of ways they can deprive our children from free “Red Sox win” meals at the Ninety Nine.

Truly bad teams don’t play close games. The last four still behind the Red Sox in the standings on Monday morning (Cubs, Washington, Detroit, Cincinnati) have one extra-inning game between them, and a collective 26 losses by at least five runs.

The Red Sox have six extra-inning games and just four blowouts — one of which, as noted above, was a nail biter in costume. They really are close to a completely different narrative while somehow feeling about 10,000 miles from a turnaround.


The 0-6 record in extra innings? We essentially got a bonus one Sunday, when J.D. Martinez’s leadoff double in the ninth set up the runner-on-second, nobody-out construct. And the Sox certainly treated it as they do the real thing: First-pitch popout, Alex Verdugo strikeout, Kevin Plawecki pinch hitter, ballgame.

It was the 30th time this season the Red Sox got that ghost runner spot. In 2019 across MLB, the average team scored a run 61 percent of the time with a guy on second and none out, and scored on average 1.2 runs.

The 2022 Red Sox? They’ve scored in 17 of the 30 (57 percent) for 28 (0.9 per) runs. Below average, but not by much. Digging deeper, though, it can be read another way.

In 10 ghost-runner spots in the ninth inning or later, they’ve scored just four total runs, and zero in seven. Which is how you go 0-6 in extra-inning games in a month.

“I really don’t know how it’s possible with this lineup that we’re playing like this,” Xander Bogaerts told reporters on Friday. “Every day, we [show up and] feel better than the day prior.”

He then noted the Sox needed to “score early” to help their pitchers, which actually isn’t the problem: The Red Sox usually do score first, in 16 of 29 games. (They’re 7-9, versus 3-10 when they don’t.)


Perhaps that’s a tell, as we wander into a conceptual argument: Is the above breakdown mere coincidence, or are these end-of-game failures evidence of pressure crumbling these Red Sox?

Sort of feels like it ties in with the closer issue, doesn’t it?

A year ago, the Rays won 100 regular-season games with 14 different pitchers collecting a save. Their save leader Diego Castillo had 14, and was traded away in July. Their leading appearance man, Andrew Kittredge, threw in every inning from the first to the 11th.

Are the Red Sox trying to match that, agreeing that every pitcher can be high leverage because the ninth is more about matchups than the big moment, or are they merely waffling between Jake Diekman and Hansel Robles while they hope against hope that Matt Barnes finds his fastball again?

I think the Barnes contract extension is the tell. Yes, yes, Chaim Bloom, Tampa Bay Red Sox and all that. But he spent the money. Keith Foulke, Jonathan Papelbon, Koji Uehara, Craig Kimbrel. Barnes, relatively, was the next guy at the time he got his contract.

It hasn’t worked, and they’ve been scrambling to find a stopgap as seven wins turned into losses via blown saves. Each one no help to the pressure of a season snowballing toward a cliff, no matter how illogical the results feel in the short term.

“You can’t panic. You can’t think too much. You have to stick together,” Plawecki told reporters Sunday. “Are we going to have a fun season or be miserable for the 130-something games we have left? We have to stay together and keep confidence that it will turn.”


We have pilloried them, tied in the loss column with American League-worst Detroit, for their free-swinging insanity. But really, how much different is their 51-percent swing rate this season from the 48.8 over the full of 2021 that produced more than five runs per game? Hunter Renfroe’s not that good.

On some level, it doesn’t matter, because at some point, it’s decided the short-term isn’t short anymore. That’s a human nature decision, and it’s lurking as the playoff places in the American League stretch a little closer to the horizon.

And the one saving grace, health, starts to waffle. On top of Chris Sale’s latest obstacle, Josh Taylor and James Paxton had minor setbacks that will slow their arrivals as reinforcements. Michael Wacha hurt his side. Rich Hill got COVID.

The pitching has been the saving grace. Without it?

Without it, we see how bad this can get. And short of the offense getting out of its own way at last, we see what happens when every day ceases to be a new opportunity to turn around this season.


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