Prior to Boston’s flight down to Tampa to face the Rays for a four-game series at the Trop, the Rays were scoring runs at a historic pace in their first nine games. The Rays had a +57 run differential and were undefeated, a scoring feat that a team hadn’t accomplished since roughly the Teddy Roosevelt administration. And that’s a long, long time ago.
So, when the Red Sox lasted eight innings before Chris Martin surrendered a run last night and lost by a mere 1-0, there were some thoughts that the Red Sox could keep up defensively with this behemoth at the plate. Such hopes were impassioned by the fact that Garrett Whitlock, who has been keeping busy in the minor leagues collecting Opening Day starts while rehabbing his hip, was making his season debut tonight against the threatening lineup. Red Sox Nation was buzzing with the fact that maybe this Tampa offensive onslaught could be stifled by exemplary starting pitching.
On this Tuesday night, when the Red Sox lost 7-2 to the Rays to drop them below .500 to 5-6 in a game that felt over pretty early, that did not seem to be the case. At all.
Garrett Whitlock was efficient in getting hitters out in the first two innings, getting out of innings much quicker than his adversary on the mound tonight (more on him in a minute) but he was also effective at letting runs cross the plate, allowing two runs in those frames, by way of a single from Wander Franco and a double from Vidal Brujan. Randy Arozorena robbed Rafael Devers of at least extra bases in the top of the third inning, but any semblance of thought that Boston was a hit away from being in contention was erased pretty rapidly when Garrett Whitlock allowed a no-doubter to Isaac Paredes in the fourth. Add in a Yandy Diaz home run, a Brandon Lowe home run merely one pitch after that, and a close call Randy Arozarena, and you have a recently healthy pitcher getting hit around pretty hard. Whitlock finished the night with 5 innings pitched, 5 strikeouts, and 5 earned runs. 5 is a lucky number, am I right? I am as big of an advocate of Garrett Whitlock as one can find, but even I will admit that stat line is not too great! (Hey, at least he walked zero Rays!) Even worse is the fact that Whitlock allowed three home runs and came pretty close to allowing a fourth. Even scarier is that this game could have been even uglier if not for the clutch play behind the plate (not even kidding) by Connor Wong. The guy was a natural out there, gunning guys down at second base, ending two innings in a row early on his instincts and reflexes.
CONNOR WONG STRIKES AGAIN!— Tyler Milliken ⚾️ (@tylermilliken_) April 11, 2023
He’s now thrown out back-to-back runners.
Despite the diamond general behind home plate, it gets even easier to be pessimistic about prospective forecasts this season when one considers how many home runs the Red Sox have given up thus far in April. They trail just the White Sox, who have played one more game than them, and the Oakland Athletics.. who, well, I’ll stop right there. You cannot have a winning team being so far up the league chart in something so detrimental to the finish of a game like home run balls are. It destroys a pitcher’s momentum, especially when you allow two in as many batters as Whitlock did tonight. When compounded, it puts a game within reach very much out of reach. It cannot keep happening. But I’ll stop there.
Just as my colleagues are quick to point out it takes about a month of action for a rotation guy who just got healthy to clearly gauge where they are at (cough Chris Sale,) one is quick to remember Whitlock has faced minor league bats in his last couple of starts, and this is a tough lineup to face. Like, 76 runs scored already tough. Whitlock will be alright... and worst case, we have some depth. Some. But I really do not want to think of that. Yet.
Yandy Diaz (3)— ⁵ (@WanderToHOF) April 12, 2023
Brandon Lowe (4) pic.twitter.com/t0PMVysUpq
We can’t talk about the Red Sox falling ill to the home run ball without acknowledging their trouble scoring runs against this Tampa team. And to do that, we need to also recognize just how good, even if not efficient, Shane McClanahan was for the Rays tonight. The lefty, who turns 26 later this month, was mowing the Sox down in this outing. He struck out 9 batters in his five innings of work and allowed just one run on only two hits on the night. He was commanding, with the only points of weakness from Tampa’s point of view the fact that he also walked four and the fact that he wasn’t exactly quick at getting Boston batters out. He exceeded 40 pitches and was rapidly approaching 50 by the end of two innings, setting him up for a much quicker night even though it took until the fifth inning for Bobby Dalbec to record Boston’s first hit. McClanahan came out to pitch the sixth but Kevin Cash pulled him after Masataka Yoshida’s ground out double play scored a run, a decision that looked like McClanahan was ready to hotly contest, but a decision that was perfectly understandable, as he was at 100 pitches.
Kaleb Ort took the mound in the seventh after a scoreless sixth from Richard Bleier and within four pitches, to not much of my surprise, he allowed yet another long ball, this one to Josh Lowe. A few batters later, Triston Casas had a run fall on his the Ort inning’s head on a badly placed ball that didn’t make it out of the infield... or into Casas’ glove. That made the score 7-1. The Red Sox did get three hits (half of their night’s total) and one more run by way of a Reese McGuire blooper in the ninth with two outs, and they also got the rarity of a scoreless eighth inning from Ryan Brasier, but it was far too little, far, far, too late.
Tampa has allowed just 20 runs all season, and pitching like that is a big reason why. Add in that Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and Zach Eflin are all pitching the same way, and consider that their bats are all uncharacteristically hot even for them, and it’s no wonder Tampa is off to an 11-0 start at such a blistering pace.
But back to Boston. The team simply will struggle to score runs following the wrist injury of Adam Duvall. I won’t go as far as to say they can’t score runs period, because they just hung 14 runs on Detroit on Saturday. But that’s going to be pretty rare.
Naysayers of the team were saying “wait until they face a real team” since their first win of the season. Now, they are facing a real team. This Rays squad is also a real team winning games at an unrealistic clip right now that almost feels fantasy, so I’m willing to temper my pessimistic expectations until Boston faces an actual real team, say, against the Angels, Twins, Brewers and to Baltimore to face the Orioles again over the next couple of weeks. It’s still so early, so let’s not panic... though we can at least get a little worried and start blowing air away from our television screens to guide balls away from the outfield wall, can’t we?
Three Studs (LOL)
Justin Turner: .049 WPA, 1-2, 2 BB
Bobby Dalbec: .045 WPA, 1-1. 1 BB
Reese McGuire: .009 WPA, 1-2, 1 RBI
Garrett Whitlock: -.230 WPA, 5 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 5 SO
Kiké Hernandez: -.079 WPA, 0-5, 2 K
Rob Refsnyder: -.063 WPA, 0-4, 2 K
Play of the Game
It was Wander Franco’s double to score Yandy Diaz in the fourth off of Whitlock, with a .112 WPA. On our side, it was Justin Turner’s sixth-inning single to advance Devers to third base. Not a play to write home about, but then again, neither was this game.