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Rays 9, Red Sox 1
It's happened: the Red Sox have been swept by the Rays, and now must face the reality that their wild card spot is suddenly in jeopardy.
With Jon Lester on the mound, the Sox had their best shot of the series to take a game off of the Rays. But instead of his usual ace-type stuff, Lester showed up to the game running on empty. For the second straight game, the Sox found themselves facing a bases-loaded, zero outs situation in the first. Lester would not escape as easily as Kyle Weiland before him, however, surrendering three runs in the frame on singles from Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman, as well as a sacrifice fly from Sean Rodriguez.
While Marco Scutaro's solo shot in the third put the Sox on the board, the Sox went 0-for-2 with the bases loaded, leaving them down by two when the Rays came to the plate in the bottom of the frame, and by three when Lester immediately returned the run by giving up a leadoff triple to Johnny Damon.
Of course, all those runs meant an inflated pitch count for Lester, which meant his departure from the game after just four innings--a terribly disappointing outing from one of the Sox' best when they needed him most.
From there, it was the bullpen's game to turn from a close contest into an ugly blowout. Today, the honors went to Michael Bowden and Matt Albers. The former loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs, and with the latter inexplicably called into the situation he had not managed to escape from only a few days ago, the results were all too predictable. B.J. Upton got ahead 2-0, got a pitch to hit, and turned it into a grand slam. Just like that, it was 8-1 and the Red Sox entered panic mode.
Three For The Road
A Much Needed Day Off
The good news is that, if the Sox can actually start playing like they should for the last 16-or-so games, then staving off the Rays with a 3.5 game handicap already on their side shouldn't be terribly difficult, even with a bit of a banged up starting rotation.
The bad news is that just because they get the day off doesn't mean they'll manage to regroup for their 10-game homestand.
Morales For The Middle Innings?
Amazingly, Franklin Morales has actually been pretty good with the Sox so far. While it's not enough of a sample size to really begin to suggest improvement on the whole, playing the "hot hand" in Albers worked right up through last month, and the Sox don't exactly have anyone better to use. I never would have imagined it a few months ago, but it seems like the lefty from Colorado will be making the playoff roster and the righty from Baltimore will not.
Oh, Right, Panic Time
The Red Sox were 3-10 thirteen games into the season. That means they've been playing no better these last two weeks than they did to start the year. These are the April Red Sox right now, and it's them we're relying on to take the team into the postseason.
Red Sox MVP -- No, seriously, not until they win again.
Up Next -- A merciful day off, and then Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. vs. Toronto Blue Jays | Tim Wakefield (6-6, 5.04 ERA) vs. Brandon Morrow (9-10, 5.12 ERA)
Remember this matchup? It was the heartbreaker which started this terrible five-game losing streak. Excited for a rematch? I know I am!
The Red Sox will end Sunday having been swept by the Rays, with just a 3.5 game lead in the wild card.
It’s pretty much impossible to draw any other conclusion now. After Lester was removed from the game with 100 pitches on his arm through four, Michael Bowden proceeded to load the bases, and Terry Francona called on his bases loaded specialist: Matt Albers. He did not disappoint, one-upping his appearance against the Jays when he gave up the bases-clearing double by allowing a grand slam to B.J. Upton.
So it is that, with Marco Scutaro’s solo shot being the only real bit of offense the team has had, the Red Sox are now just a matter of time away from being swept. Their rotation in shambles, their lineup unresponsive, and with no real memory of what it was like to be a team that was expected to win just about every game; this is the group that will have to stave off the Tampa Bay Rays through another two weeks.
Hard as it is to believe, it’s happening: the Red Sox are two innings into a game that seems like it will close out a Tampa Bay Rays sweep—one that will make the wild card far too vulnerable, especially given the recent play of Boston.
When the Sox most needed a strong performance from Jon Lester, they have received nothing of the sort. The Rays put their first four batters on the basepaths, and with the addition of a Casey Kotchman single with two outs, put up three runs in the inning, making Jon Lester toss over forty pitches to record just three outs.
The Red Sox’ offense did show some life in the top of the second, putting two men on before Jason Varitek grounded into a double play, and Jon Lester did finish the bottom half of the frame relatively strong, but unfortunately it seems unlikely that the lefty will even finish the fifth inning at the moment.
The Red Sox are in perhaps the closest thing to a must-win situation they've had yet this year, facing down a possible sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays that could turn a seemingly locked-up wild card position suddenly vulnerable.
To avoid that nightmare scenario, the Sox will have to snap a four-game losing streak which has seen them drop games in blowouts and heartbreakers alike. If there's one man who can come through for them, it will be the one who last won for the Sox: Jon Lester.
It won't matter how well Lester pitches, of course, if the Sox' lineup can't score any runs. The good news is that this hasn't really been the biggest problem of late.
Boston Red Sox (85-60)
The Rays won't have the most threatening looking lineup of the series-to-date given the lefty on the mound.
Tampa Bay Rays (80-64)
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (15-6, 2.93 ERA) vs. James Shields (14-10, 2.77 ERA)
If there was going to be a game for the fate of potentially two separate seasons, this is a pretty appropriate pitching matchup. Ace vs. ace, with each man in top form. Jon Lester has gone five straight starts allowing at most one earned run--a streak which started against the Rays--and is fresh off an 11-strikeout domination of the Toronto Blue Jays that earned the Sox their last victory.
Shields, on the other hand, has only thrown 26 innings of two-run ball in his last three outings. Mixed in with his dominant starts over the last couple of months, however, are a few disaster starts. He seems to be good for one or two a month--sort of a higher peaks, but more frequent depths situation compared to Lester. He could just be due for another one.
Rays 6, Red Sox 5
The Red Sox' collapse continued, and they now stand just one game away from their nightmare scenario of a sweep at the hands of their greatest competition in the wild card race: the Tampa Bay Rays.
If there's one thing the Sox have gotten bette at over the course of this streak of terrible play, it's their ability to instill some drama in the game--and not for the better, necessarily.
The Sox stayed close throughout the match Saturday night, tying the score after the Rays scored a run in the first, and then matching the two additional runs they put up in the second and third when Adrian Gonzalez put a big uppercut swing on a 2-2 changeup, drilling a two-run shot to right.
The 3-3 tie would not last long, as Alfredo Aceves joined the line of relief pitchers failing to do their duty in recent games. Just two outs after replacing Kyle Weiland in the fifth, Casey Kotchman took a 96-MPH fastball deep to right. One inning later, and it was a leadoff hit batsman scoring on a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3.
If that were the end of things, then the loss would have been just another in a now far-too-long series of losses. Instead, the Sox made it interesting, gave their fans hope, and then crushed them. With one out in the top of the ninth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia got an unexpectedly hittable 0-2 fastball on the outside part of the plate. He crushed it, sending a solo shot to right. Up next was Jacoby Ellsbury, and once again Farnsworth delivered something in the zone--this time a backdoor slider that came too far in. Ellsbury jacked a bomb of his own, and within two batters, the game was tied.
Jonathan Papelbon worked through two economical innings, but things did not go so well for Daniel Bard. Facing Desmond Jennings to lead off the inning, Bard allowed a fly ball towards the gap. As both Jacoby Ellsbury and Darnell McDonald closed, McDonald veered off and Ellsbury made a last-ditch dive that came up short. It's not exactly clear what happened for sure, but it seems clear that a lack of communication or poor decision making cost the Sox at least one base, as Jennings sped into third. With his back against the wall, Bard would get one out on a ground ball without the run scoring, but not a second. Inexplicably choosing to pitch to Evan Longoria, Bard got ahead 0-2, and then delivered a chest-high fastball on the outside corner. The pitch was exactly where Bard wanted it, but Longoria had no trouble cashing in on it, lining the ball into center field and sending the Red Sox into even deeper depths.
Three For The Road
Nightmare Scenario Approaches
By Sunday evening, the Sox could well find themselves stuck in the nightmare scenario, with a double-digit lead whittled down to 3.5 games, and for the first time since May starting down an all-too-real possibility of missing the playoffs.
The Sox will still have time to recover no matter what, but if a streak nearly as bad as the start to their season can't wake them up, what can?
Pitching to Longoria
Once again Terry Francona has made a confusing decision with Daniel Bard on the mound. With Jennings on third base and one out, Francona told Bard to go after Evan Longoria, the best hitter the Rays have on their team whether the numbers currently say so or not.
It's another difficult to defend position. Typical strategy tells you to walk the batter at the plate to set up a potential inning-ending double play--even more so if it's a legitimate batter at the plate. It's possible that Francona didn't want to face Zobrist, who hits righties better than Longoria, but barring some freak double play at third, Bard would have had to face him anyways, and unless he got the out on the Rays' third baseman, the impetus to strike him out would be no different--Zobrist, for the record, strikes out more often than Longoria.
Chances are the answer in Francona's mind lies in the splits, but that's a terrible bit of logic given the situation. Especially with Johnny Damon next up in Tampa's lineup.
Ease Up On Bard
The Red Sox' setup man has come under an unreal amount of fire for just two games worth of work. The votes of no confidence popping up throughout comment sections and Twitter are astounding given that Bard has been arguably the most sure thing on the team up until Tim Wakefield's game. Next thing you know, Jacoby Ellsbury will be on the outs for an 0-for-4 game.
Red Sox MVP -- Adrian Gonzalez
Ellsbury and Salty had their bit of magic, but it wouldn't have had a chance to happen were it not for Adrian keeping the score close in the middle innings. Add to that a pair of walks, and you've got a strong night for the Sox' first baseman.
Up Next -- Sunday, 1:40 p.m. | Jon Lester (15-6, 2.93 ERA) vs. James Shields (14-10, 2.77 ERA)
This is the closest thing the Sox have had to a "must win" game so far this year. Jon Lester needs to put a stop to the madness, and that's all there is to it.
The Red Sox are still behind the Rays by just one run, but they’ll have to leave the rest of the game up to their threadbare bullpen, as Kyle Weiland departed after just four innings of work.
if there’s something to be said for Weiland, it’s that he left on his best note. After three straight innings with one earned run, the young prospect recorded the only scoreless inning of his outing in the fourth, though he still allowed a pair of runners in the process.
This gave the Sox a chance to catch up in the fifth, and for once, it was one they took advantage of. With two outs and Dustin Pedroia at first (by way of fielder’s choice—the slump continues in force), Jeremy Hellickson delivered a 2-2 changeup to Adrian Gonzalez which stayed just high enough for a massive uppercut swing to make big contact. The ball sailed out to right-center in a hurry, landing in a fan’s glove for a game-tying two-run shot.
Unfortunately, the tie would not last long, and it came due to one of the few bullpen members who has been reliable for the Sox this season. With two outs in the inning, Alfredo Aceves delivered a 96-MPH fastball to Casey Kotchman, who caught up with the heater in a big way, launching a solo shot to right to quickly break the tie and return the advantage to the Rays.
The Red Sox and Rays have been trading one-run innings early on, but the Sox are lucky to be out of the first two with so little damage done as Kyle Weiland has already stranded three runners.
The first inning was the worse of the two for Weiland, who started off the game by loading the bases with zero outs on a pair of walks and a single. A ground ball would bring a run in, but Weiland managed to keep the ball out of play in Johnny Damon's at bat, and induced a fly ball from Matt Joyce to end the threat.
The Sox would manage to knot the score up at one in the top of the second thanks to a leadoff walk and hit from David Ortiz and Josh Reddick respectively, but Kyle Weiland once again found himself in trouble in the bottom half. A leadoff single may not have resulted in a run, but a one-out base hit let the runner get to third when Carl Crawford failed to hit the cutoff man on the throw in from the outfield, leaving the Rays up 2-1 after a ground out.
The Red Sox will return Dustin Pedroia to the 2-hole for Saturday night's matchup against Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays, moving David Ortiz to the cleanup role as the team continues to try and work around the absence of Kevin Youkilis.
While the loss of Youkilis' bat has been a major hit to the team, contributions from Marco Scutaro and Josh Reddick have helped to mitigate the damage. Reddick, who extended his hitting streak to six games on Friday with a 2-for-3 performance, has hit .423/.444/.692 since the beginning of August. He can't touch Scutaro's contributions, however, as the shortstop has picked up 12 hits in his last 20 at bats, and carries a 1.251 OPS on the month into the matchup against Jeremy Hellickson.
Unfortunately, for all their contributions, the guys expected to be major offensive contributors have gone relatively quiet, holding Boston to just two runs in their last outing against Wade Davis. The lineup will have to do a better collective job if they want to score off the rather more impressive Jeremy Hellickson.
Boston Red Sox (85-59)
The Rays will utilize a fairly typical lineup against Kyle Weiland, with the only real variations coming in the bottom of the order.
Tampa Bay Rays (79-64)
Pitching Matchup: Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 2.90 ERA)
The victim of some bad innings in his first couple of starts, Weiland enters the game with some terribly unimpressive numbers. And, indeed, the young rookie just hasn't looked terribly good pitching against Major League opponents, or even back in the minors after his appearance with the big league team. Still, Weiland is a promising young pitcher who could well just be waiting on a breakout game.
The Red Sox will likely need that game to come now given who's starting for the Rays. Hellickson is not as impressive as his ERA would lead you to believe between a low strikeout rate and middling walk rate, but there's something to be said for the fact that he does have the Rays defense behind him, and so far that year this has worked out for him--including in a couple of solid starts against Boston. The Sox do have their full compliment of lefty hitters tonight, of course, but unless they can take full advantage of Hellickson's flyball tendencies and take a few out of the yard, it might be difficult to get anything to fall in for a hit.
The Red Sox have seen their lead in the wild card race shrink to just 5.5 games after a 7-2 shellacking at the hands of Wade Davis and the Rays.
And John Lackey.
When the Sox most needed him to provide a strong outing, their biggest free agent instead provided history, officially becoming the one man with the worst ERA through 26 starts for the team in the 110 years of the organization's existence. After an entirely unusual 1-2-3 first inning, Lackey gave up a three-run shot to John Jaso with two outs in the second inning. One inning later, it was more two-out trouble, with five straight batters reaching base to score two more, giving the Rays a 5-0 lead.
Having recorded the final out on a ball that caught him hard in the shin, Lackey would not return for the fourth.
The Red Sox finally got to Wade Davis in the sixth, when Jacoby Ellsbury singled home Josh Reddick and Marco Scutaro brought Jarrod Saltalamacchia in with a sacrifice fly. But Scott Atchison couldn't go a full three innings in relief, and gave the runs right back in the bottom half.
From there, it was easy sailing for Tampa Bay. If there was any positive to be taken from the rest of the game, it was the continued impressive play of Franklin Morales, who struck out two batters in his inning of work.
Three For The Road
One For The Past
The Red Sox are now 3-8 over their last eleven. That's a 44-win pace, for those interested, and by far their worst streak since the 2-10 start. While it would be nice to just assume that this is an unimpeachable lead in the wild card, especially for a team so talented, pigs will fly before we forget where we came from. This game will, for many, likely be the one that puts those thoughts of '78 back in the minds of Bostonians.
One For The Present
This game has the feeling of a death knell for John Lackey's season. While the sad state of Boston's rotation will have him running out there every five or six days, and presumably in the postseason as well (typing that last bit was physically painful), today represented a possible turning point. After going three outings without a quality start, John Lackey was returning to a low point he'd managed to pull himself up from with a decent July. He needed something decent, and instead had his worst start since his implosion against the Blue Jays. Lackey is broken in a way that seems unlikely to change anytime this season.
One For The Future
The Rays have five good starters scheduled to go in their last six games against the Sox, along with Jeff Niemann, who has thrown 17 innings of 2-run ball against the Sox so far this year. In short, Tampa Bay is not only in a way in control of their own destiny, but may have a better shot than anyone had realized. If the Sox can just wake up and start playing well against the rest of the league, then they would be 100% fine. But they haven't really done that since July, so...
Red Sox MVP -- Nobody. Nobody at all.
Up Next -- Saturday, 7:10 p.m. | Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 2.90 ERA)
It's a terrible matchup on paper, but honestly Kyle Weiland represents more promise on the mound than the Sox are likely to see from anyone outside of Lester for a good few games. He had a successful relief outing against Toronto a few games back, and had plenty of hype before he started his Major League career with a couple of bad starts.
Of course, against Hellickson, he'll have to be exceptional for the Sox to stand a chance. The young righty is just five days removed from going the distance against Baltimore on just 97 pitches. Ill tidings for a possible 4-game losing streak.
Just when the Sox thought they were out, the Rays pulled ’em right back in!
One clear sign that a game is going poorly is that the starting pitcher is gone before an out is recorded in the fourth inning. This was the unfortunate reality for John Lackey, who was replaced by Scott Atchison to start the fourth.
While Lackey did have a reason to be gone—he was hit in the ankle by a come-backer with the last pitch he threw and left with a contusion—the fact that he gave up two more runs in the third to go with the three he gave up in the second probably has just as much to do with it.
The Sox offense finally pushed a couple of runs across in the sixth inning off of Wade Davis, as Josh Reddick, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jacoby Ellsbury each picked up hits to start the frame. But Adrian Gonzalez was robbed of a hit by Evan Longoria, and the rally died early.
This left Scott Atchison free to give the runs right back to Tampa Bay on three doubles. A better night than Lackey, and valuable given the eight outs he recorded to preserve the more valuable members of the pen, but a bit soul-crushing all the same to have the value of the rally so quickly mitigated.
I think the misery of Red Sox fans of late was very succinctly summarized by this Tim Britton tweet: Jaso makes it three straight days a catcher hitting 8th belts a second-inning HR against the Sox. Sox fans have been given the gift of watching, in order, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, and John Lackey. Three pitchers who, as the tweet suggests, can make even the weakest hitter in a lineup look like MVP candidates. Amazingly, Lackey was able to make it through one inning untouched, but as soon as the second started, he was in trouble. Ben Zobrist led off with a single to left field, and after two outs, Casey Kotchman drew a walk to bring John Jason to the plate. The tweet tells the rest of the story. Lackey missed terribly on a 3-1 pitch, and Jaso made him pay with a three-run shot. What's worse, Wade Davis is on fire, having allowed only one hit through the first two innings, and then having the one baserunner in Dustin Pedroia quickly erased by a caught stealing. Once again, it could be a long night.
I think the misery of Red Sox fans of late was very succinctly summarized by this Tim Britton tweet:
Jaso makes it three straight days a catcher hitting 8th belts a second-inning HR against the Sox.
Sox fans have been given the gift of watching, in order, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, and John Lackey. Three pitchers who, as the tweet suggests, can make even the weakest hitter in a lineup look like MVP candidates.
Amazingly, Lackey was able to make it through one inning untouched, but as soon as the second started, he was in trouble. Ben Zobrist led off with a single to left field, and after two outs, Casey Kotchman drew a walk to bring John Jason to the plate. The tweet tells the rest of the story. Lackey missed terribly on a 3-1 pitch, and Jaso made him pay with a three-run shot.
What's worse, Wade Davis is on fire, having allowed only one hit through the first two innings, and then having the one baserunner in Dustin Pedroia quickly erased by a caught stealing.
Once again, it could be a long night.
The Red Sox are in Tampa Bay Friday night to face off against the Rays in a series that could effectively seal Boston's postseason spot. Unfortunately, they're there without their starting shortstop, as Kevin Youkilis has returned to Boston to receive an MRI on a nagging hip injury.
The news of Youkilis' health concern is simply the last thing the Red Sox needed. With Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard both absent from the rotation for the time being, and the team stuck in a 3-7 slide over the past week-and-a-half, Boston needed all hands on-board for this series against their closest wild card competition. Instead, they're down one of their biggest bats and, as a result, will need to move a hard-slumping Dustin Pedroia into the all-important cleanup spot when runs are likely to be needed in rather high quantities.
Boston Red Sox (85-58)
They'll have to outscore a Rays lineup that looks all-the-more impressive ever since the addition of Desmond Jennings.
Tampa Bay Rays (78-64)
Pitching Matchup: John Lackey (12-11, 6.11 ERA) vs. Wade Davis (9-8, 4.50)
Until his last game, John Lackey had been acceptable for a long streak of time. Six earned runs in five innings, however, does not cut the bill, even against Texas. Ever since his strong July, Lackey has been sliding back in the direction of his early-season mediocrity. If he's ever going to pull that back, now has to be the time.
Davis has actually had the reverse of that trend up until his bad start against Toronto to end August. His July was a particularly bad period, while the ensuing months have seen him return a relatively middling form. Davis isn't terribly likely to shut Boston's offense out, but against Lackey he likely doesn't have to. In a battle of two hurlers that don't exactly set the world on fire, the Rays seem to have the advantage.
The Red Sox will try and put a nail in the coffin of Tampa Bay's season, but to do that they'll need to pull out of a tailspin that has seen them lose seven games out of ten.
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