BOSTON -- That vaunted Red Sox offense that was tearing up the competition for much of the season has gone into a three-game lull that has uncoincidentally turned into a three-game losing streak, matching their longest of the season.
For a microcosm of what has happened lately, and again in Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat to the Athletics, look no further than the bottom of the first inning.
The Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out and it was a golden chance to rattle A’s righty James Kaprielian, who was making his first Major League start.
Instead, Boston squandered a big chance with some big hitters at the plate. Xander Bogaerts struck out on a 2-2 slider out of the strike zone. Rafael Devers popped out on a 1-0 pitch that also appeared to be a ball. And even after Kaprielian gift-wrapped a run for the Red Sox by walking Christian Vázquez with the bases loaded, Hunter Renfroe struck out to end what was once such a promising rally.
“That first inning, I kind of messed up the whole game starting from there,” said Bogaerts. “I’ve got to do a better job.”
Over this three-game skid, opposing starting pitchers Jorgé Lopez, Chris Bassitt and Kaprielian combined for a 2.04 ERA against the normally-dangerous Boston offense, giving up an aggregate four runs.
If one thing has been proven this season, it’s that the Red Sox win when they score even a modest amount of runs. The club is 19-2 when it scores four or more runs and 3-14 when it scores fewer than four.
“I mean, we’re in a slump right now as a team,” said Bogaerts. “We have some guys that are getting their hits, and some guys that aren’t. As I said the other day, it’s kind of hard to have nine guys that are clicking at the same time. We have to do a better job putting the ball in play when there’s a lot of traffic on bases, starting with me.”
Manager Alex Cora often talks about his team needing to control the strike zone, and they didn’t do it in this one.
Instead, promising rallies continued to fall short, as they went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.
“We haven't been able to do too much,” said Cora. “We had bases loaded, no outs. We had the kid on the ropes and we only score one. Double digits in strikeouts again. We didn't do much. He settled down, started mixing up his slider. We know we're a good offense. When the big boys are not swinging the bats the other guys have to contribute, too, right? Xander and Alex [Verdugo] and J.D. [Martinez] and Raffy, they're going to go through some slumps or [cold] streaks or whatever, and we have to pick them up.”
Two other missed opportunities haunted the 22-16 Sox, who now lead the Yankees by just one game in the American League East.
After Marwin Gonzalez led off the fifth with a walk, Kaprielian again did the Sox a favor when he threw a potential double-play grounder off the bat of Verdugo into center field. With runners on first and third and nobody out, Boston came out of it with no runs. Bogaerts and Devers had back-to-back strikeouts. The pitch Devers swung at to end that inning was in the dirt. Earlier in the frame, Gonzalez got hung up between third and home on a contact play when Martinez hit one back toward the mound.
“Marwin had a good jump, but then he hesitated. I think if he keeps going, he's probably safe,” said Cora.
In the eighth, the Sox had runners at second and third with one out, and again came away without a run, this time on a strange double play on a tapper by Vázquez. After the A’s got Vázquez at first, Bogaerts tried to score from third, and was tagged out.
When teams struggle offensively, they are sometimes more prone to being overly aggressive on the bases.
“With Xander, [just] trying to do too much in that situation. He froze on the line drive, went back during the throw to first. The effort was great, but obviously in that situation, second and third, you stay there,” said Cora. “He's such a good baserunner, he thought getting that run right there, he had it. It's a gamble in that situation.”
On Thursday, the Red Sox will try to snatch the finale of this three-game set against Oakland.
“Things are going to come around,” Bogaerts said. “You can’t keep a good [team] down for too long, and we’re going to bounce back.”