Red Sox's confidence unwavering amid skid

May 7th, 2022

BOSTON -- There wasn’t much the Red Sox could do on Thursday but tip their caps after a pitching performance so overpowering by Shohei Ohtani that manager Alex Cora playfully asked the media if his offense could have a mulligan.

Friday, the problems ran much deeper.

In a 4-2 loss to the White Sox, the team’s perplexing offensive struggles continued, and put Boston (10-17) in sole possession of last place in the AL East for the first time this season.

There was a sense of disbelief from the club’s most established player.

“I don’t know how it’s possible with this lineup that we’re playing like this,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said.

A team with the likes of Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Trevor Story, Kiké Hernández and Alex Verdugo would project as a top offense going by past track records.

Thus far, it hasn’t come close to panning out. The Sox have just 16 homers with a .626 OPS and a run-differential of minus-20. They’ve lost three in a row and five of the last six.

“We have to slow down the game, regardless of how we’re doing -- if we’re doing well or we’re struggling,” Cora said. “There were certain pitches in certain situations where we got out of the plan, and were too aggressive and chased pitches. Just another night. We’re struggling. Just being honest. We have to keep trying to get better.”

For a team that finished just two wins shy of the World Series last year and brought back most of the same cast, trailing the Yankees by nine games in the division this early in the season is stunning.

“It’s right there,” Cora said of the standings that are displayed on the Green Monster. “It’s right in front of everybody, but you have to forget about that. I think you have to detach yourself from the result or whatever’s going on outside of our world and win ballgames. We know we are a better team. We are better than this. But right now we’re not putting games together.”

Of late, it has been Groundhog Day for the Red Sox, who show up to the ballpark thinking their fortunes are about to change, only to wind up back in the same rut.

“Every day, we feel better than the day prior,” Bogaerts said. “Then we leave the ballpark, and it’s like … this is not fun. Everyone wants to win. In the end, it’s up to us. We’ve got to go out there and put up good at-bats. We’ve been running into some good pitching, but we’re also good hitters. I know the season is young, but we’ve got to go.”

The general sense in the clubhouse is that one big day could turn everything around. And Bogaerts thinks it would be best if that big day started from the jump.

“We need to score early,” Bogaerts said. “I’m sorry to say it, but we need to. Listen, we need to score first and give the pitchers some breathing room. The game is going three innings, 0-0 [a lot] and we’re asking a little too much out of the pitchers to throw a complete-game shutout. I know it’s hard. We need to score runs but it would be really, really good if we could score first, to be honest.”

Ace Nathan Eovaldi had to grind for everything on Friday, throwing 101 pitches in five innings, holding the White Sox to three runs.

However, there just isn’t much margin for error for the pitching staff these days.

“It’s one of those things where we just have to stay together as a group,” Eovaldi said. “And that's one of the things I feel like we're doing really well. We come in every day with a positive attitude, ‘It’s going to turn. It’s going to turn.’ We’ve got enough experience in the clubhouse that we’re all staying with each other. We’re doing the little things. It’s just waiting for that big moment where you feel that shift move.”

Friday night, it felt like that big shift might happen after Jackie Bradley Jr. made a rocket throw to the plate to nail AJ Pollock for a 9-2 double play on José Abreu’s flyball.

Reliever Matt Barnes doffed his cap at Bradley, and the Red Sox came back to hit for the bottom of the ninth, needing the proverbial bloop and a blast to tie it up.

Instead, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks dialed it up and struck out the side in the ninth to create another hollow ending at Fenway.

Maybe Saturday will be the day the tide turns.

“Our confidence is unwavering,” Bradley said. “It’s early. I don’t think there’s time to panic or anything like that. Confidence should still be there. We’ve got great players and we’ve got a great staff. Just have to continue to come in every single day and focus on that day -- winning that day.”