The Red Sox have had some tremendously frustrating games over the course of this first half, and almost all of them have involved their offense disappointing. This was another one of those games, and it was their third such game in the last four.
On Saturday, they went up against Alex Cobb, who has been decidedly average this season but looked much better than that in this one. To be fair, the Red Sox offense contributed to that plenty, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, Cobb deserves credit for how he pitched today. The righty had Boston hitters off-balance all game, hit the edges of the zone and didn’t give up any walks or hard contact. The Red Sox made plenty of contact, as they typically do, but Cobb did a great job of making sure it wasn’t going to do any damage.
With that being said, it was still a disappointing performance to watch. We know that patience has always been a big part of recent Red Sox teams’ strategy at the plate, and that has undoubtedly worked well for them over the years. Sometimes, though, it seems as if they are being too selective or are waiting for a specific pitch too often. In this game, there were far too many pitches over the middle of the plate that were let go.
The photo above shows all of the strikes Cobb threw over his start on Saturday. The pitches with black dots (or lines or whatever. I’m not much of an artist.) were all called strikes and they were all fastballs. There’s always more context that goes into a decision of whether or not to swing at any given pitch, of course, but it’s hard to wrap your head around so many hittable pitches being let go for strikes.
Like I said before, Cobbs deserves plenty of credit for this start. As does the defense playing behind him, particularly Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, as they prevented a few rallies from getting started. Those things, combined with the frustrating approach/lack of hard contact from the Red Sox offense led to almost no real threats at scoring in this one.
Boston did get one rally going, and it came in the very last inning. After showing no signs of life all day long, they got a little something going against Rays closer Alex Colomé when Xander Bogaerts drew a one-out walk and Mitch Moreland hit a big double to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. They couldn’t get the finishing blow, though, as Hanley Ramirez struck out in an awful at bat and Chris Young popped out to end the game. It seemed like a perfect spot in which to pinch hit Jackie Bradley, but John Farrell was adamant about getting his center fielder a full day off.
EDIT: Apparently, the day off wasn’t why Bradley didn’t come in. This reasoning is a lot less defensible to me.
They managed only two hits off Cobb all day, and they didn’t have a single base knock from the fourth through the eighth. At one point between the end of the third and the middle of the seventh, Cobb retired eleven straight Red Sox. Boston didn’t have a runner reach second base until the ninth. It was a bad day, is what I’m trying to say.
While the offense was busy sputtering towards that horribly lackluster performance, the Red Sox got the kind of performance they’ve been waiting for from Rick Porcello. Or, at least, something close to that kind of performance. The 2016 Cy Young winner certainly wasn’t perfect and he did allow some hard contact, but for the most part he was outstanding and gave his team every chance to win.
Porcello allowed his one and only run of the game in the second inning. That inning started with two straight singles followed by a double play ball from Hechavarria. The Rays shortstop was originally called out at first to complete the big double play, but a replay showed that to be the incorrect call and the Rays were given runners on the corners with just one out. That was a huge moment in this game, as it turns out. After Porcello hit the next batter to load the bases, Jesus Sucre came through with a deep fly ball to score the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly. Porcello would get out of the jam from there, but his offense couldn’t pick him up after that.
Beyond that second inning, things were mostly smooth for Porcello. He had his fastball working extremely well and successfully turned to that whenever he needed a big strikeout. Speaking of which, Porcello struck out seven Rays in his eight innings of work in this game, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed the Red Sox bullpen to have a full day or rest.
As I said, there were struggles in this game that other teams may have taken advantage of. He allowed runners to reach third in both the fifth and seventh innings, for example. However, this was probably the closest thing we’ve seen to 2017 Porcello, and it was a damn nice sign heading into the All-Star break.
The story of this game will certainly be the lack of production from the lineup, and rightfully so. They were up against a pitcher in Cobb who had everything working and one who was hitting his spots almost whenever he wanted, but they also were a little too passive for a pitcher who was throwing so many strikes. We’ve seen them bounce back from these kind of performances before, but it’s no less frustrating to watch in real time. This is particularly true when their pitcher goes out and throws a gem that is completely wasted.
The Red Sox will try to bounce back from this tough loss and head into the break on a high note with David Price on the hill Sunday afternoon.