BOSTON -- Can it get any worse than this?
That was the first question posed to manager Alex Cora in the aftermath of an 8-4 loss to the Rays that saddled the Red Sox with 10 losses in the last 12 games and put them a season-high five games back in the American League East.
Cora spoke for all of Red Sox Nation with his answer:
“I hope not."
The Red Sox are hoping they’ve finally reached the floor after squandering a 4-1 lead on Tuesday night in the opener of a six-game homestand.
The loss would have been tough to swallow in a vacuum. But when you add it to the recent events, which include giving up a 7-2 lead in Sunday’s defeat, it made it that much more tough.
For the better part of four months, Boston exceeded the expectations of nearly everyone outside of its own walls by blending timely hitting, solid relief pitching and serviceable starting pitching to a record of 63-40 and a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East on July 28.
Since then, hardly anything has gone right for a team that is now 65-50 and in possession of the second Wild Card spot by just two games (one in the loss column) over the Yankees (62-51).
Eduardo Rodriguez looked dominant early, allowing two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out eight over 5 1/3 innings.
However, things started to take a downturn in the bottom of the fifth when the Sox had first and second with nobody on, and second and third with one out and couldn’t score.
“We played a good game for 'X' amount of innings," Cora said. "We had chances to put them away, we didn't do it, and after that we didn't make good decisions defensively.”
The hitting -- billed as the strength of the team -- has faltered in the clutch and failed to add on to early leads.
The bullpen hasn’t merely hit a wall, but instead run into a cement mixer, giving up 21 earned runs in the last 21 innings over the last six games -- five of them losses.
Closer Matt Barnes has pitched four times in the last four days, including both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday, giving up seven runs, four hits and three walks while recording just six outs over a combined two innings.
Barnes came in Tuesday with the game tied in the ninth, then gave up two hits, four runs and two walks to take the loss.
Cora took some blame for asking too much of the All-Star righty.
“Barnesy, right now, he's doing his best. I should probably take care of him in a sense. It's not fair, obviously,” said Cora. “He wants to do it, he's willing to do it. But it's been a grind for him lately. It was a grind for us tonight.
“For how valuable he is for us, how much we rely on him, there are certain situations that for his benefit body-wise we're better off staying away from him, giving him this entire game [off]. For us to be better, everyone has to contribute. I think it's more that than anything else. It has to be everybody.”
In a sign of how tough things are for the Red Sox these days, not even Garrett Whitlock came through on Tuesday.
Entrusted with a 4-2 lead in the seventh, the Rule 5 rookie allowed the Rays to tie it up. In 1 2/3 innings, Whitlock gave up two runs on four hits and two walks.
Whitlock entered this appearance with a 1.17 ERA, having allowed just one run in 21 2/3 innings covering his previous 13 outings.
As Xander Bogaerts informed Whitlock in the middle of his outing, the Rays ambushed him with fastballs.
“I did not learn quick enough in the outing,” Whitlock said. “I’ve got to be better about learning quicker and picking that up earlier and not just trying to force my best pitch in there. I’ve got to read hitters better and I’ve got to learn quicker in an outing, and if I’d have done that, it could have been different.”
The starting rotation, which gets Chris Sale back Saturday -- and not a minute too soon -- has been better the last four games after a brutal stretch. But it hasn’t been enough to offset everything else that has gone wrong.
“Everybody's talking about Saturday when Chris gets on the mound, but we've got games before that. We've got three more games,” Cora said. “We have a good team, but we have to keep working at what we're trying to accomplish, and get better on the field from 7 [p.m. ET] to 10:30. We've been on that roller coaster going up and down. I said it a few days ago and I'm going to keep saying it. For us to do this, we have to play a better brand of baseball.”