Several days ago, it seemed the Red Sox were in the playoff picture, even if they were on the absolute outskirts of the conversation. They were feeling good following a series split with the World Champion Houston Astros, which finished with a 17-1 rout against J.P. France. So, even with losing a series against the Dodgers and perhaps the worst example of a punted game of the season last night, the Red Sox were likely thrilled to see France again, especially with Brayan Bello again on the mound. With the team direly needing some rest for their bullpen, Bello, leading the team in innings pitched, would surely hold up strongly late in this game, right?
Bello secured one out against Jose Altuve, but in case anyone was getting too comfortable in the first inning, Alex Bregman smacked a ball into the stands to quickly put the Astros on the board. Red Sox fans like you and me couldn’t even fully let out a twelve-letter expletive before Bello had given up another home run, this time to Yordan Alvarez. Alex Verdugo, Mr. Leadoff Man in his own right, put a ball in exactly the same spot, but Mauricio Dubon exists, and he is quite good at being an outfielder, and dove out for what was likely two or three bases from Verdugo.
Mauricio Dubon robs Alex Verdugo of extra bases with a stellar catch.— Jamie Gatlin (@JamieGatlin17) August 29, 2023
The Red Sox would otherwise go down quietly in that inning, and would threaten in each of the next two innings but — surprise, surprise — would squander opportunities with runners in scoring position both times, though they did get a run by way of a Justin Turner fielder’s choice to score Verdugo.
Bello would get into some trouble in the fifth inning due to a walk and ANOTHER lapse in judgment on a throw from Rafael Devers, but because the Astros are a good baseball team, there was no squandered chance, at least not right away; Bregman capitalized on this opportunity with his second extra-base hit of the night to make it 3-1.
That would be it for Brayan Bello, who, in his 4 2⁄3 innings, has seen worse nights, but who has also seen much, much, better nights, and who needed one of the latter for the good of this team. Joe Jacques would strike out Yordan Alvarez, but the score was 3-1.
Cora outsmarted himself yet again by replacing Joe Jacques with John Schreiber, who gave up a couple more runs due to Dubon again getting the best of this Boston squad. 5-1 game. At this point, if you’re internally the Jesse Pinkman “He can’t keep getting away with this!” meme about this bullpen management, my friend, you are not alone.
But let’s not get too down in the dumps. Adam Duvall would hit an absolute missile into the Monster seats for a fourth consecutive game to make this a three-run deficit again, which would end the night for J.P. France, whose performance tonight made Thursday’s outing look like, well, Kyle Barraclough. Too soon? Probably.
Duvall’s home run was also too soon to think optimistically about this game, because the top of the lineup again hammered away at a Red Sox pitcher, this time Josh Winckowski. The Astros would get another run, and Winck was lucky more runs weren’t plated in that inning. The 7th inning was looking promising with Devers coming to the plate following a Reese McGuire walk and another Verdugo knock, but, wouldn’t you know it, with two outs and the two men on, Rafael Devers swung out of his shoes for strike three, and the Red Sox were running out of game. I was getting ready to scream at my television for Cora to consider a pitching change, but frankly, since it seemed to not be Winckowski’s night, I realize it was a lose-lose situation, because hasty hooks got us into this mess the last several days. Winckowski got Houston 1-2-3 in about two minutes, and I am glad to be incorrect.
In came Mauricio Llovera in case there was any doubt in this one. He, too, emerged unscathed, which actually was quite impressive given the guys he faced and the damage they have done against, well, frankly, better pitchers.
In the bottom of the ninth, the team gave us just enough hope from two walks, but we knew better than to get our hopes up. With a runner in scoring position, Verdugo, who had been effective all night, came back from 1-2 to run a count full, before he — surprise, surprise, he’s on the Red Sox after all — popped up and squandered an opportunity. If that slight exciting glimmer of hope that never truly felt tangible anyway is not symbolism for this entire year, I’m not quite sure what is.
The Red Sox are 6.5 back from the final Wild Card spot. I’m being cynical, of course, but there’s no chance that, with this strength of schedule, this team can do enough to make any sort of waves in this race. This was decided with the lack of aggression in acquisitions. You can pick a checkpoint for that lack of aggression: free agency, trade deadline, dumpster diving for most of the year to gain a plethora of mop-up guys when the room is flooded with shortcomings. You’d be right.
In a couple of days, the Red Sox have to make another commitment on roster expansion day. If this truly is about the future and how “awesome” it will be, it would be “awesome” to assess some talent on the farm instead of bringing up Quad-A arms, because, even with an exhausted bullpen, the pitching staff won’t be managed right anyway. We know this. There’s evidence all year to support that fact. Does the team and its front office know this? And, worse, do they even care?
Adam Duvall: 2-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 K
Alex Verdugo: 2-5, 1 R
Triston Casas: 1-2, 1 K, 2 BB
Rafael Devers: 1-4, K, E
John Schreiber: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB
Masataka Yoshida: 0-4, GIDP
Play of the Game:
I’d go the Dubon dive, and as per usual, when the team plays like this, and there’s scarcely a doubt of the outcome, you’re not getting a Player of the Game poll. But, if I had to pick a Red Sox play, I’d go with the one modicum of hope I had all night: Duvall’s monster shot. It was in the stands before we processed that an actual good thing happened. Anyone want a remote to go back to a day where things felt better, even for a couple hours?