An awful end to an awful series. The Red Sox have been swept for the first time in 2018, and they looked bad in every portion of the game on Sunday. The offense was totally shut down by Blake Snell, which wouldn’t be a huge deal considering how good he was except for the fact that they’ve been struggling for a little while now. It should also be mentioned, of course, that both J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi had the day off for this game. The pitching was also bad, with Nathan Eovaldi struggling once again (and suffering some bad luck) while both Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes labored out of the bullpen. The defense and the baserunning mixed in some mistakes as well just got good measure. Teams always hit bumps in the road and we’ve seen good teams struggle at exactly this time of year plenty of times, but none of that information made this weekend any easier to swallow.
The weekend from hell couldn’t stop on Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay, as it was more of the same for the Red Sox. We’ll start with Nathan Eovaldi and the defensive side of things, though that’s not me saying it was the worse portion of the contest. It may have been, but it’s like deciding between the devil and the deep blue sea. For Eovaldi, this was sort of like his last start in that there was certainly some bad luck involved but at a certain point the pitcher needs to make his own luck. The Rays had a couple of rallies here, and particularly early on they were the result of weak contact. That sucks and is frustrating, but on a number of occasions Eovaldi found himself in two-strike counts but couldn’t come through with a putaway pitch. Eventually, that’s always going to come back to bite you.
For the righty, the troubles started right off the bat. After his team went down in quick order in the top half of the first, Eovaldi couldn’t get the first batter. Joey Wendle placed a fly ball down the left field line and it got into the corner for a leadoff double. He’d move over to first on a weak infield single, and Ji-Man Choi knocked him in with an RBI single. Three batters, three baserunners and a run on the board. Eovaldi got a strikeout after that, but a sacrifice fly followed soon after and the Rays had a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
The second was an easy 1-2-3 affair on a pair of groundouts and a strikeout, but that momentum wouldn’t carry into the third. It was back to a singles-led attack for Tampa Bay, as they got three in a row with one out to put another run on the board. After a fly out gave Eovaldi his second out of the inning, Kevin Kiermaier came up with two on and two out. Eovaldi couldn’t put him away, and the Rays were able to open up their lead. The outfielder put a flyball to the left field corner, Brock Holt had some trouble with it out there and Tampa Bay got a two-run triple. Just like that, it was a 5-0 lead.
In the fourth, the Red Sox righty found himself in even more trouble. That inning started with the defense getting involved, and not in a good way, when Brandon Lowe hit a grounder up the first base line. Mitch Moreland had a relatively easy play, but he booted it and couldn’t recover, allowing Lowe to reach. After a one-out single and a wild pitch, the Rays had a pair in scoring position with just one out. Matt Duffy came through with a fly ball, and the sacrifice fly gave Tampa Bay a 6-0 lead. Eovaldi got out of the inning after that, but he’d be done after just four frames.
On the other side of things, we knew the Red Sox were in for a challenge with Blake Snell on the mound. Tampa Bay has become known for their “opener” strategy, but they have one outstanding traditional starter in their rotation with Snell. The lefty has been nails all year, and that continued on Sunday.
After going down in order in the top half of the first, the Red Sox did get their leadoff man in the form of a walk to start the second. They’d quickly shoot themselves in the foot, though, when Steve Pearce made a bad read on a ball in the dirt and got himself thrown out at second base. As a result, Boston would send just three men to the plate that inning.
The third was another quick 1-2-3 inning, but the fourth gave the Red Sox another leadoff baserunner. This time it was Mookie Betts with a leadoff single, and after a strikeout he got himself to second on a stolen base. Snell would settle down after that, though, getting a strikeout and a fly out to keep his shutout going.
Finally, the Red Sox were able to break through a bit in the sixth. Following a scoreless fifth from Joe Kelly, Sandy León started the sixth off with a walk, and Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to follow that up with a double down the right-field line. Suddenly, the Sox had two in scoring position with nobody out. Betts knocked León in with a sacrifice fly, but that was all the Red Sox would get in the chance. It was 6-1.
Heath Hembree got the call in the bottom of the sixth, and things didn’t get off to an ideal start when Lowe reached on a weird chopper between Hembree and Núñez at third. He’d move to second on a stolen base, and with two outs Hembree couldn’t get out of the jam. Duffy ripped a double into left field and the Rays’ lead was back to six. He’d walk a batter after that but he’d eventually leave with just the one run scoring.
In the bottom of the seventh, Matt Barnes was brought in and he struggled. The righty walked the first batter he faced, though he appeared he could get out of it after that. Barnes got two straight strikeouts, but then walked another batter. That brought up Michael Perez, and the catcher ripped a double into right field and suddenly Boston’s deficit was up to eight.
The ninth saw Craig Kimbrel get his first action in eight days, as the Red Sox were clearly looking to get some work for their most important relievers despite a lopsided score. It didn’t go so well for the first two, but Kimbrel did come in and strike out the side. Small victories, I guess.
As for the offense, well, after that sixth inning it was a whole lot of nothing.
The Red Sox will have a much needed day off after this awful series before getting back to Fenway on Tuesday. That will kick off a quick two-game set against the Marlins with Brian Johnson taking on Jose Ureña in the first game. First pitch on Tuesday will be at 7:10 PM ET.
As for the division, well, the lead continues to shrink, though it’s still not exactly small. Right now, it stands at 6.5 games pending the results of the Yankees game. New York and Baltimore are inexplicably the Sunday Night Game, so we’ll be waiting a bit until we see how that one goes.