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Scattered thoughts after a sweep at Fenway

There have been better weekends in Boston.

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New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

This was not the weekend anyone envisioned for the Red Sox here at Fenway, with Boston really holding an inside track for the top wildcard spot as long as they didn’t get swept. That certainly doesn’t close the door on that possibility, to be fair, but it was a deflating three games if nothing else. There’s a lot I wanted to touch on from this series, so I figured the ol’ Scattered Thoughts was the best way to do that.

  • We should probably start with just the series as a whole and the ~vibes~ coming out of the weekend. Like I said, this doesn’t preclude them from getting the top wildcard spot, and their FanGraphs playoff odds are at 87.5 percent, actually a few ticks higher than the Yankees. But I think it’s fair to say the weekend was still a gut punch. They really just had to win one of those games to feel okay heading into the final week, and what made it so frustrating was that they beat themselves. People saying the team is sure to miss the playoffs right now are certainly speaking a bit too drastically, but the disappointment is hard to curb.
  • The big moments of failure in this series came down to the pitching a lot, whether it was Nathan Eovaldi getting roughed up on Friday, or the bullpen in the final two games, but hanging over the entire series was the offense. Boston’s bats just got shut down, and mostly by the Yankees starters. Struggling to get much going against Gerrit Cole, who is probably the second-best pitcher on planet Earth, is one thing. But to fail to get any momentum going against Nestor Cortes and Jordan Montgomery — good pitchers, but not elite — when your starters are getting the job done just can’t happen. This is a team that is still largely built around its lineup, and it needs those bats to come through.
New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
  • Specifically, this is a team that is built around the core of their lineup, namely Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Kyle Schwarber. Those guys just did not get it done this weekend. Devers did hit a home run on Friday, though it was at least bordering on garbage time at that point. But overall those four went 9-41 in the series for a .220 batting average. So while the big moments were typically taking place with Boston in the field, it was the consistent lack of offense from the big hitters that put them in a position where they needed big outs from the bullpen in the first place.
  • And speaking of the bullpen, I do think we have to talk about Alex Cora’s decision making on Saturday. It just wasn’t good managing. Josh Taylor being hurt, something we didn’t learn about until after that game, certainly made things more difficult, but Darwinzon Hernandez was not the right call there. His strikeout stuff is enticing, but not as much against a guy like Anthony Rizzo who sees lefties pretty well, generally makes a good amount of contact, and is not one to go chasing bad pitches often. That’s not a recipe for success against Hernandez. Even with Taylor out, I’d rather see Austin Davis in there. Maybe Rizzo gets a hit against him, but I’d rather make the batter do the work than send out a guy who is more likely to issue a free pass than anyone on the pitching staff.
  • That’s not to say it is all at the feet of Cora either, though. The Red Sox bullpen had control issues in big spots all weekend, which was another huge factor. Before Hernandez even entered that game on Saturday, Tanner Houck issued a walk to Brett Gardner with two outs ahead of Aaron Judge. That can’t happen. Again, you have to make the batter beat you in those cases. On Sunday, before all hell broke loose in the eighth inning with Judge at the plate, Garrett Richards walked the first two batters of inning, including the number nine hitter. He was bailed out with a caught stealing, and some outside circumstances killed the Red Sox in that inning which I’ll talk about in a second, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that they put a big chunk of it on themselves with the free passes.
MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
  • But yeah, about that eighth inning. We’ll start with Dalbec, who has made a lot of strides at first base as the year has gone along, but not on foul balls. Twice that I can remember this series he let catchable foul pop ups fall because he’s tentative around the wall or near the dugouts. I don’t know if something happened earlier in the year or last year that I don’t remember, or maybe something during his time in the minors, but it’s costly. There’s some sort of mental block that needs to be addressed on these plays, because as we’re seeing it can cost them.
  • And then that dropped third strike call, I’m not even sure what to say. I hate talking about the umpire, and as I alluded to above the Red Sox put themselves in the position where that bad call screwed them. But at the same time, it’s an inexcusable missed call. And honestly, I’m not even sure how much of my ire is directed at Joe West (for this call anyway; generally I know how much). His angle for that call is tough and I’m not sure how he’s supposed to see it. But if we’re going to have replay, there needs to be a mechanism to fix obvious mistakes like that one. Adam Ottavino has to make better pitches to Judge and Stanton, of course, but that whole sequence, both the Dalbec drop and the missed call, was excruciating.
  • Perhaps more than anything else this weekend speaks to how important Garrett Whitlock is to this bullpen. And honestly, I underestimated that importance myself. But both of those big swing innings would have been ideal spots for the rookie. You can look at it in two ways, I think. One is positive, where you’re going to more than likely have Whitlock for a potential Wildcard Game, which makes one much more confident about those late innings. More negatively, having one injury in the bullpen wreak this much havoc does not speak well to the depth. And it’s hard for me not to focus most of my attention on that front to Matt Barnes and the fact that he can no longer be trusted in those spots. Fortunately, if and when they get into postseason play, they can deploy some of their rotation in bullpen roles as well.
  • We’ll end here with some positivity, because like I said at the top even after this weekend the Red Sox still have a solid road to the postseason. As long as they take at least two games against the Orioles, they’ll be guaranteed to pick up at least one game on Toronto or New York since the two play each other for three games Tuesday through Thursday. That, in turn, means Boston is guaranteed to at least hold a share of a postseason spot heading into the final weekend.
  • I know people are pointing to the Rays already clinching as a reason the Yankees will have an easy last series. I don’t think it’s that clear-cut. It’s certainly going to be less difficult than it would be if Tampa Bay hadn’t already clinched, but with rosters at 28 instead of 40 in September now, we don’t see the same kind of wacky lineups maybe we would have a couple years ago. There are only so many players you can rest with that few roster spots, and since the Rays’ number one strength is their depth, I find it hard to believe they’ll be throwing out non-competitive lineups.
  • So really, as frustrating as this weekend was, and as much as I can’t blame anyone for being miserable for the time being, the Red Sox still control their own destiny in a way. They just need to beat up on two more bad teams. If they can’t get that done, do they really deserve to be playing next Tuesday in the Wildcard Game anyway?