With Jon Lester taking the mound, the Red Sox had to feel good about their chances, but as is so often the case better on paper did not translate to better on the field. Lester started out missing spots badly in the first few innings, but wasn't actually hurt until he started keying in come the fourth when Nelson Cruz drove Josh Hamilton in with a two-out double to the gap. The throw to third was in time to catch Cruz, but Adrian Beltre lost the ball, leaving Cruz free to score himself.
The defense wasn't done, though, getting caught by a trick that the Sox must have thought they'd left behind after falling victim to it twice earlier in the season. With two outs and runners on the corners, Elvis Andrus (who had already been picked off once) tried to steal second. Dusty Brown threw down, Julio Borbon broke towards home, and the throw from second was too late. The Sox ended up down an extra run without even the guaranteed out at second. The Rangers tacked on a fourth run in the eighth off a tiring Lester.
All this could have been worth nothing if the Red Sox had just taken advantage of their opportunities, but somehow 13 baserunners only turned into two runs, and that only thanks to a ninth inning rally. No hits in eight opportunities with runners in scoring position makes for a low-scoring game.
Now that that's behind us, let's get to this series against Oakland--the start of a West Coast road trip that could well decide the fate of the Sox' season.
It has been over a month since the Red Sox last took on the Athletics. Since then, the A's have moved up a bit in the rankings offensively, and kept their rotation strong. So not a lot has changed.
The improvement offensively is mostly to do with the return of Jack Cust in all his three outcomes glory. A .829 OPS puts him nicely on top of the rest of the team, well ahead of the diminishing Daric Barton and the returning Coco Crisp. Still, it's just not a powerful offense that you have to worry about on most days. Were the Red Sox not throwing wild cards like Matsuzaka and Wakefield for the series, they'd even have reason to feel confident.
It's hard to get a good draw against the A's rotation, so it's not surprising to see a pair of strong starters facing the Red Sox in the second two games. Ben Sheets, on the other hand, hasn't been spectacular in his return to baseball, and seems to be pretty consistent in giving up three or four runs in most games.
No such luck with Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez, however. Neither are particularly overpowering pitchers, with Gonzalez' higher K-rate neutralized by a high walk rate over four per nine. But both have been effective for the A's so far. Gonzalez, however, gave up three to the Sox in five innings the last time they played, and Braden hasn't pitched since June, so neither is a sure thing.
With the often disastrous West Coast trip about the only thing separating the Red Sox from the trade deadline, how these next two weeks go down could decide the team's willingness to spend into the luxury tax on extra bullpen help, or even to sell off some of their expiring pieces in Martinez and Beltre. These are the most important games of the season for the Red Sox.