ANAHEIM, Calif. — As Xander Bogaerts tugged his navy blue batting practice pullover down over his muscular shoulders inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, the Red Sox shortstop snuck into an exasperated smile.
A pregame interview had arrived at the topic of Boston’s inability to win low-scoring games; of the offense’s firepower carrying a struggling pitching staff; of the offense’s firepower inhibited by a struggling pitching staff.
Bogaerts’ eyes got wide, and, incredulous, he shook his head.
“How many games we won like that?” he asked, knowing it hadn’t been many. “I don’t think we won a 1-0 game yet, eh?”
Bogaerts was slightly mistaken. Boston beat Atlanta 1-0 back on April 25. But his sentiment was spot on. Coming into Thursday, the Red Sox were 2-27 in games in which they had scored three runs or fewer. By comparison, the Orioles were 11-28; the Tigers were 8-30; the Yankees were 13-41.
Now the Sox are 2-28.
David Price, who had been part of the problem, did his best to make it 3-27. The lefty threw eight stellar innings and handed Brad Ziegler a 1-0 ninth-inning lead. But Ziegler and Hanley Ramirez threw the game to the Angels.
They also threw Boston’s season into arguably its most precarious position yet. The Red Sox are staring up at Baltimore and Toronto in the American League East. A four-game skid, their first of the year, has left them just a half game ahead of the Astros for the second AL wild card spot.
Boston has the best offense in baseball by a significant margin. It has the most expensive pitcher ever. It has two formerly-middling starters, one a journeyman knuckleballer, who are a combined 25-7 this season. Its front office has traded for two late-inning relievers, a front-of-the-rotation starter and bats in the past nine months.
And yet here we are. There Ramirez’s throw is, sailing past a lunging Sandy Leon. There are the Angels galloping out of their dugout. There’s Bogaerts, his head down, trudging past a pile of Gatorade-stained ice behind the mound, crestfallen after the very type of loss he had rued five hours earlier.
“We feel like this is a complete team, when you look at balance from a position players standpoint, and the guys in our rotation,” manager John Farrell had said perched on the top step of the dugout before the game. “It’s up to us to go out and execute and perform to our abilities.”
Translation: We’re really good. We’re too good to be in the position we’re in.
That position is even more perilous due to the shape of the Red Sox’s schedule, which is back-heavy with road games. Thursday night’s in Anaheim was the first of 11 on the West Coast. The Red Sox will then play 21 of their next 27 away from home, and 40 of their final 62, more than any other team in baseball.
Boston also finds itself 10 games into a brutal stretch of 43 in 44 days.
Especially with injured closer Craig Kimbrel due back soon from the DL, Farrell thinks his team is prepared to handle the rigors.
“We like the depth of the bench that has been assembled with some of the acquisitions,” he said before Thursday’s game. “The ability to rotate a number of guys through will be on display here… Whether it’s position players or guys in the bullpen, those opportunities are going to present themselves.”
Farrell says he’ll sprinkle in off days for 40-year-old slugger David Ortiz, the first coming this weekend against a lefty, and for others over the next month. But he also acknowledges the difficulty of the next two months.
“Some of our players are going to be going through a playoff race or a pennant race for the first time,” he said. And when asked what he can do to prepare them, he continued: “I don’t think you can replicate it anywhere. They’re gonna draw upon the experiences of our veteran guys who have been through it many times before.”
There’s no time for a learning stage either. If the deals for Drew Pomeranz, Ziegler and Aaron Hill don’t say “win-now mode,” nothing does. And rumors say Boston still could be a buyer before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
The Red Sox should make the playoffs. They have the second best run differential in the American League. Their last seven losses have come by either one or two runs. Microcosms of that poor luck were on display Thursday. Up 1-0 in the fourth, with two on and one out, Jackie Bradley Jr. ripped a liner right at second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella dropped it… which allowed him to turn a double play.
The Red Sox’s inconsistent starting pitching also should improve. David Price’s peripheral numbers suggest he will, and Thursday was a nice start down that path. Pomeranz could be the previously-missing piece to a strong top four.
But as the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy wrote Wednesday, the Red Sox’s season is at a crossroads. Farrell all but acknowledged as much Thursday.
“Every game we play has a measured amount of importance,” he said. “The deeper we go into the season, the fewer opportunities you get to continue to climb up in the standings. We’re very much in the thick of this.”
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