Red Sox manager John Farrell relies on his starting pitchers to set the tone for each game and for his team. But in their seven-game losing streak, the starting pitching has led the way in the wrong direction.
“It starts as we’ve talked about earlier in the year, it starts with the guys that begin the game on the mound,” Farrell said. “And we’ve got to set the tone with our rotation. We’ve got to keep an opposing offense in check to give us opportunities to capitalize on. But that’s not happened through these seven games obviously.”
In the last seven games, starters have taken losses in all but the first game of the streak when Clay Buchholz took a no-decision in Minnesota, as the Twins won a walk-off in the 10th inning against Andrew Miller.
The starting pitchers have allowed opponents to score first in each of those seven games. The last time the Sox scored first in a game was May 14 in Minnesota – their last win. Overall, opponents have scored first in 26 of the Sox’ 46 games this season. The Sox are 5-26 in those games.
In the seven-game slide, starters have pitched a total of just 37 1/3 innings, an average of 5 1/3. The bullpen has had to make up the remaining 26 2/3 innings. Jon Lester’s 6 1/3 innings in Thursday’s homestand finale was the deepest any of the starters have gone in that skid. Felix Doubront’s four innings on May 20 was the shortest.
It is the first time the Sox have gone winless on a homestand of at least six games since June 10-15, 1994, when they lost three each to the Orioles and Twins.
In their current seven-game losing streak starting pitchers allowed 32 runs, 30 earned, on 58 hits and 15 walks with 26 strikeouts and nine home runs for a combined 7.23 ERA. The starters allowed at least one home run in every game except Lester’s May 16 outing against the Tigers, when he gave up just one run but lasted just five innings.
In the last seven games the Sox have been outscored 37-16.
In the slide the Sox lost a game to the Twins, who were two games under .500 at the time, and three each to the Tigers, first place in the American League Central, and Blue Jays, who entered the series a game above .500 and are now in first place in the AL East thanks to their sweep of the Sox.
“You can always say that it’s always frustrating when you lose a game no matter if it’s 1-0 or 10-0,” said pitching coach Juan Nieves. “But you also have to tip your hat. The two teams we played [on the homestand] I believe one [Toronto] is leading the league in home runs and the other [Detroit] is leading the league in hitting. So, when you’re facing lineups that are full and the bottom part of the lineup is hot, top six in the America League always have great lineups. When the bottom half is hot, it’s a grind.”
Perhaps the unusual scheduling of recent off-days had an effect. The Sox were off on May 5, May 8, May 12, and May 19, giving them four days off in a stretch of 18 days. Their next off-day is June 5.
“They got us in a time of a lot go guys had six days off, seven days off, eight days off,” Nieves said. “I’m not giving that as an excuse but you almost get a little bit extra rest. But sometimes it’s better later than early [in the season]. But other than that I thought the guys battled. I know their heart and their guts, and their commitment is there. So we all know the urgency but there’s no panic here. We know what these guys can do.”
Farrell will now look to John Lackey (5-3) to stop the slide Friday night at Tampa Bay. Four of his five wins this season have come after Sox losses. He is the only one of the Sox starting pitchers with a winning record this season.
“Everyone in our uniform is aware of what’s taking place currently,” Farrell said. “We have to remain positive in our daily work and our approach. And the guy that takes the mound [Friday] night, John Lackey, we’re going to look to him to set the tone and stabilize things.”