Especially for the astute Red Sox fans, it is not fun watching this team right now. Though they lead the majors in runs with 811, Boston has been invisible in September when it has needed timely hits, and the team has been plagued with shoddy defense, poor fundamentals and ineffective outings from their starters and relievers.
The disturbing trend continued on Saturday in a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay at Fenway Park. At first glance, Jon Lester’s numbers look alright. He allowed four runs and five hits over seven innings, but the left-hander put his team in a 2-0 hole in the first inning when he served up a two-run home run to Ben Zobrist with two outs.
Though he wasn’t as bad as last weekend at Tampa Bay when he lasted just four innings while throwing 11 pitches, Lester once again showcased a lack of command, walking four and consistently pitching behind in the count.
For the second consecutive time, the Red Sox needed Lester to deliver a start befitting of an ace, and for the second time in a row, he flopped.
With the win, the Rays pulled within three games of the Red Sox in the wild card race. On Sunday, the Sox find themselves in the unenviable position of battling power lefty David Price while starting 45-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who can no longer consistently get major league hitters out.
Lester’s performance was not the only disappointment from the Red Sox on Saturday. As they have for much of the season when these two teams meet, the Sox have been outhustled and outplayed by the Rays. On paper, Boston clearly has a better lineup. On the field, Tampa Bay pitchers have overmatched Red Sox hitters, and the Rays have shown more heart and desire than Boston.
The Red Sox were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Saturday, including the final out of the game when Marco Scutaro grounded out with pinch-runner Joey Gathright on second with the tying run.
With runners at the corners and two outs in the sixth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped out.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Sox had runners at second and third with one out, against left-handed phenom Matt Moore, who was making his second major league appearance. Ellsbury drove in a run with a ground out to trim the deficit to 4-3, but Pedroia struck out with the tying run at third to end the threat.
Boston has committed numerous boneheaded baserunning plays in September. The most recent occurred in the bottom of the fifth. With the Sox trailing 4-2, Jacoby Ellsbury singled off Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann and stole second. With Dustin Pedroia at the plate, Ellsbury was thrown out trying to steal third.
Now 87-64, the Sox not only lost a game off their wild card lead, but also fell 4.5 games behind the Yankees in the American League East race. Because of their inability to get key hits, play clean defense, execute the fundamentals and consistently get solid outings from their starters (and, no, there was nothing impressive about Lester’s performance today), Boston is unable to sustain a prolonged winning streak. The club is 4-12 in September with one game left with the Rays followed by a four-game set at Fenway Park against the Orioles and then three games at Yankee Stadium and three games at Camden Yards to end the regular season.
Today’s loss likely ends Boston’s hopes for an AL East title, and a loss on Sunday would give the Rays added momentum heading into the final 10 games of the season.
Chances are, the Sox will hold on and at least sqeak into the playoffs, but if they play as they have so far in September, their ALDS appearance will be short-lived – mercifully short-lived.