Boston's WC chase slowed by defensive errors, stagnant offense

Duvall hammers 7th homer in last nine games, Bello goes 4 2/3 in loss to Astros

August 30th, 2023

BOSTON -- With September approaching ever too quickly for the Red Sox, time is growing short and odds are getting long for the club to be able to make a legitimate postseason push.

For weeks, Boston was in range of that third American League Wild Card spot.

But Wednesday’s 6-2 loss at Fenway to the defending World Series champion Astros pushed the Red Sox 6 1/2 games back with 29 games to go.

Just three days ago, manager Alex Cora’s team was in striking distance at 3 1/2 games back. But that was followed by an ill-timed three-game losing streak.

“We’ve got tomorrow,” Cora said. “We play tomorrow, and we’ve got to find a way to win. Then Thursday is off and then Friday [in Kansas City], we'll see where we’re at. [The Astros] are going to play their division. We still got some series against the division. We just have to play better baseball, we haven't done that. We are where we are because we’ve struggled in certain areas of the game and it’s catching up [to us] now.”

This homestand was set to be a pivotal one with three against the Dodgers and three more against the Astros. The Dodgers came to Fenway and took two out of three, and now Houston has already taken this series heading into Wednesday’s 4:10 p.m. ET finale. The best Boston can do is a 2-4 homestand.

According to FanGraphs, Boston’s chances of making the postseason are down to 6.3 percent.

Houston is the team currently in possession of the third AL Wild Card spot, which created an opportunity for Boston to close ground in a three-game series at home when it mattered most.

Instead, things have gone in the other direction.

“When we got back from the road trip, we were motivated,” said starting pitcher Brayan Bello, who took the loss. “I think we lost a little bit of ground in that race, but baseball is not over. We still have a month of important games ahead of us and we’ll make everything possible to try to make it to the playoffs.”

While Cora had to reset his bullpen during losses the previous two days, he had a full bullpen back at his disposal for this one.

However, the relentless Astros scored off the first three relievers Cora used.

Though abbreviated starts have been a significant issue for the Red Sox, Bello -- the one guy who has been providing innings -- was removed more for matchup reasons with two outs in the fifth and the dangerous Yordan Alvarez at the plate.

Lefty Joe Jacques came on and got Alvarez looking, keeping it a 3-1 game in favor of the Astros.

But it should have been 2-1. The Red Sox gifted the Astros an unearned run before Bello’s exit. Rafael Devers, who has had defensive issues all season, bobbled a routine grounder for his 17th error of the season.

Still, the Sox had a chance to escape the inning without a run coming across. Second baseman David Hamilton fielded a ground ball while standing on the bag for an easy forceout. An accurate throw to first would have made an inning-ending double play. Instead, the ball skipped well out of the reach of first baseman Triston Casas and Alex Bregman hammered an RBI single.

This is the way it has too often gone for the Red Sox on defense this season.

“We didn’t make two routine plays and they’re really good at what they do,” said Cora. “We just didn’t make plays behind him.”

About the only bright spot for the Red Sox in this one was the continuation of Adam Duvall’s power tear. The slugger belted his seventh homer in his last nine games, a laser into the Monster Seats.

“Even the last one he missed, he’s very calm and not expanding,” said Cora. “They’re going to make pitches and we know that, but he’s staying with his game plan, recognizing what they're trying to do and when he gets his pitch, he’s not missing. He’s in a good spot right now.”