After a couple of encouraging wins, the Red Sox went back to the well of frustration on Wednesday and dropped a winnable game to the Twins. As has been the case in oh so many games this season, the offense deserves the brunt of the blame in this one. Once again, they couldn’t get anything going and when their pitcher put them in a small, early hole Boston’s lineup couldn’t find a way to get back in the contest.
To make matters even more frustrating, it came against a pitcher that is not so good that this kind of performance is to be expected. Adalberto Mejia was solid in this one and had much better control than he’s shown previously in his young major-league career, but his stuff wasn’t so impressive that one would expect him to completely shut down this Red Sox lineup. This is particularly true when you consider that this lineup that is built for left-handed pitching had so much success on Tuesday.
For whatever reason, they just couldn’t build up any sort of momentum in this one. The thing is, Boston had at least one base runner in each of the six innings that Mejia started, but it never really felt like they had any sort of rally going. In three of those innings they even got runners to second base, but Mejia didn’t allow anyone to advance any farther than that. The biggest threat the Red Sox put forth came in the third inning when they started things off with two straight singles. Unfortunately, despite having the middle of their order coming up, Boston’s next three hitters went down easily and they couldn’t take advantage of the inning’s beginning.
In total, the Twins starter tossed 5 2⁄3 innings against the Red Sox and only allowed five hits, one walk and one hit by pitch. As I said, Mejia’s stuff wasn’t particularly dominant — he struck out three batters in the outing — but his command was good enough to keep a quiet Red Sox offense off the board.
They finally got something going in the seventh after Mejia was clear of the game. After Sandy Leon started things off with a single, Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia each drew one-out walks to load the bases. It seemed like a prime opportunity to do real damage with the middle of the order having chance to redeem themselves. The Red Sox did plate one run on a Xander Bogaerts ground out, but that would be it in another failed opportunity.
Meanwhile, Rick Porcello was on the mound for the Red Sox looking to build off what was an encouraging start his last time out. Early on, it didn’t look like he had much of a chance of doing that. After starting the game with two quick outs against the Twins lineup, he started to get hit relatively hard. Joe Mauer hit a two-out double on a liner that reached the Monster in left field, and Miguel Sano knocked him in with a double of his own on a hard-hit ball out to left field. The next at bat wasn’t as bad, but the result was the same as Max Kepler hit a little blooper to right field that found an empty spot in the outfield and dropped down for an RBI single. Just like that, Porcello had the Red Sox in a 2-0 hole and was well over 20 pitches through just one inning. It looked like it was going to be a long one for the 2016 Cy Young winner at this point in the game.
Fortunately for the Red Sox and our collective sanity, Porcello settled down in a big way after this rough start. From this point forward, he started to work the edges much more consistently and specifically commanded his fastballs to dominate Twins batters. Over the next four innings, Minnesota managed just two singles and a walk, and only one of those runners made it as far as second base. That was Kennys Vargas, and it was as far as he’d get.
So, heading into the sixth with his pitch count approaching 100, Porcello still had only allowed the two runs that were put on the board in the first inning. Of course, he was still in line for the loss given the non-existent offense from his teammates. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it anymore and dug the hole even deeper. After starting the frame off with a walk, Porcello left a fastball down in the zone over the heart of the plate to Kepler and the outfielder smashed it to the back of the bullpen in right field. It was so thoroughly crushed that Betts didn’t even bother chasing it towards the wall, which is somewhat rare for him. He’d get three quick outs after that to finish the inning, but he still finished his outing with his team in a 4-0 hole.
This certainly wasn’t 2016 Porcello, but this outing was more encouraging than not, I think. There’s still work to be done if Porcello is going to come close to the expectations we had for him coming into the season, but he’s getting there. He was outstanding in the middle, but his struggles on the bookends of his start were enough to hand him a loss.
After Porcello left, the Red Sox turned to the bullpen with Heath Hembree coming in first. The righty tossed a 1-2-3 seventh and then allowed an infield single and struck a batter out in the eighth before being lifted for Robby Scott. Boston’s primary southpaw would get a quick second out before two consecutive walks — one intentional, one unintentional — to load the bases. Fortunately, he escaped danger with a big strikeout to leave all three runners stranded. Matt Barnes came in for a clean ninth.
This was an incredibly frustrating loss and continued the pattern of this lineup making a lackluster starter look much better than they actually are. This offense needs a spark, and it almost certainly needs to come from the top. The good news is they still have a chance to win this four-game series on Thursday night with David Price on the hill.