Today will be a better day for the Boston Red Sox. They can’t lose.
The Sox are in the midst of a brutal stretch, having wasted their two best starts of the season — including one of Josh Beckett’s best starts ever — and given back all the ground they’d gained in the AL East during their six-game winning streak. The team that could never say die has done so five straight games.
This is what happens when the luck runs out and the comebacks disappear. The striking similarity between the Sox’ six-game winning streak and their subsequent five-game losing streak is that in each case the ballclub was usually needing a late rally. In the last 11 games, the Sox have outscored opponents 51-48. They beat opponents by a collective 12 runs in the first six games, but eight of those came in one victory. They’ve been outscored by nine runs in the last five. In each case, that’s an average of just a two-run margin per game.
In the first six, the Sox had the bats to dig out their shaky starters. Now the reverse is true. No power. No punch. Just pathetic ineptitude against the Tampa Bay Rays, whose bullpen used to cure all ills. There was no Mother’s Day Miracle in Tampa this weekend. Just a pair of undeserved losses for Boston’s version of the Killer B’s — Buchholz and Beckett.
Things look bleak, as they often do in the midst of a losing streak. Three Red Sox relievers have an ERA under four — Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and David Aardsma. That’s the same number of relievers who have an ERA over five (Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez). The last six times the Sox’ bullpen has entered the game, its given up at least one run. For the season, it sports a hefty 5.31 ERA and .809 OPS against. This is clearly the No. 1 concern for the Red Sox right now.
There’s still a bright side. Sox batters have a combined 116 OPS+, they still have the most wins in the AL East despite a barrage of illness and injury that could have left them all but incapacitated on the field. Most importantly for the rest of the season, the call-ups have generally been terrific (in fact, the possibility exists for an all-homegrown starting infield if Moss gets the start at first base before Lowell is activated) — especially the hot prospects Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson.
The key pieces — offense and starting pitching — seem to be there. They just need to put them together at the same time — and find a middle reliever who can keep runners off the bases. Still a lot of time left, and the Red Sox are going home. For today at least, they can’t lose.