Two nights ago, the Big Bad Boston Red Sox were barreling toward a division title and potentially much more.
We were a night removed from a Doug Fister performance that Greg Maddux would be proud of. The Red Sox were also able to scrape together a few runs to beat potential Cy Young favorite (I cringed, too) Corey Kluber. Chris Sale was set to take the mound the next day, before heading to take on the Orioles and ride the wave straight through October.
Five and a half games clear of the Yankees, this Red Sox team appeared to fit more of the ’13 mold than the ’07 or ’04. But for perhaps the first time all season, there actually was a visible World Series-caliber mold. Pitching, defense, chemistry, maybe a touch of magic. It was congealing at the right time.
To say things have gone awry in these last 48 hours would be a gross understatement.
Two of the three pitchers who need to be at their peak had their worst starts of the season on consecutive days. The Red Sox allowed 13 runs on consecutive days for the first time since 2006.
Seeing Chris Sale not make it past the third inning on Thursday was jarring, and it may have even planted a seed of doubt in fans who have been warned about Sale’s late season struggles in the past. But that feeling was compounded tenfold when the reigning Cy Young winner followed that up with another dud of epic proportions, allowing 11 runs (granted, only four earned) in his 4.2 innings of “work.”
Two long days — and 29 runs allowed — later, it’s easier to say this than internalize it: Nothing has changed.
To be sure, problems have arisen — or, I’d argue, simply resurfaced — in the past couple of games that need to change.
Primarily, Rick Porcello needs to be closer to 2016 Rick Porcello if they want a shot. And the longer David Price lingers on the disabled list the longer the less slack Porcello has going forward.
Chris Sale got beat around, and that’s bad. In his last three starts innings against Cleveland — 11.1 innings — Sale has given up 19 earned runs. This would be a concerning trend in any context against any team. That rings especially true when it’s coming against the team the Red Sox are likely to face in the ALDS.
But count me among those not too worried about the pitcher who leads American League pitchers in nearly every meaningful statistical category. He’s been the best player on the team by a wide margin this season, and he’s been at his best at the biggest times in the biggest games. He’s the least of my concerns, against the Indians or anyone.
The offense has its issues. This is not an offense capable of bailing out a failing pitching staff — this isn’t some sleeping juggernaut waiting to burst out in October. It’s still a team that thrives at nickel-and-diming rather than the power-heavy lineups that have tended to win in Boston. It is what it is at this point, but it is good enough.
The bullpen has its issues. It’s filled with a bunch of slightly above-average arms, who quietly comprise a pretty good bullpen (don’t tell anyone, though). Addison Reed is going to own the eighth inning when all is said and done, and if Carson Smith can come up to Boston and be a reliable arm he further stabilizes a bullpen that will shorten anyway. If all else fails, John Farrell can just turn to Mitch Moreland to pitch the eighth.
This is a flawed team, undeniably. But it’s also the same team that started August by winning 15 of its first 19 games. It is a team that still has a cushy, yet uncomfortable, 4.5 game lead in the division. It is a team with the most balance in the American League, and arguably the most pure talent.
It was a team capable of winning the American League two days ago, and it is still — at its core — that team.