With Tim Wakefield on the mound, it’s hard for the Red Sox to win, especially since the 45-year-old knuckleballer has now allowed 11 earned runs in his last 16 innings and has proven this season that he can no longer consistently get major league hitters out.
When the defense continues to give opposing team extra outs by making errors on routine plays – as third baseman Mike Aviles did on Sunday with two inaccurate throws to first base – it’s challenging to win.
When a lineup that is among the league leaders in most offensive categories can’t seem to deliver when it really matters, it’s difficult to win.
Boston’s September collapse continued on Sunday in an 8-5 loss to the Rays, which took three out of four after sweeping a three-game series last weekend in Tampa Bay. The Red Sox are now clinging to a two-game lead in the wild card race over the Rays.
Simply put, Tampa Bay is a significantly better team than the Red Sox. The Rays have much better pitching, play dramatically better defense, actually understand the basic fundamentals of the game and show more heart and desire than the underachieving Boston ballclub.
The Red Sox plummeted to 4-13 in September. Part of the reason for Boston’s implosion is a rash of injuries to key players like starting pitchers Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard. Yet the team’s inability to get timely hitting and play clean defense has plagued the club.
Wakefield, who fell to 7-7 and now has a 5.20 ERA, was ineffective again, serving up six runs (two earned) and six hits over five innings. The defense behind him – and in front of him – didn’t help. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had three passed balls, one allowing a run to score. Aviles’ two errant throws and Conor Jackson’s inability to catch a fly ball near the Green Monster were additional examples of how Boston’s woeful defense is contributing to losses this month.’
The top of the fifth inning defined this team’s downfall. Desmond Jennings led off with a base hit, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch and scored on a wild pitch by Wakefield. This happened after Boston’s trimmed a 4-0 deficit to 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth.
Later in the top of the fifth, Wakefield appeared to escape further damage by inducing a routine grounder from Ben Zobrist, but Aviles’ throw to Adrian Gonzalez was wide to the outfield side of first base, allowing Evan Longoria to score for a 6-2 Rays advantage.
The Red Sox were not even able to capitalize on the early departure of David Price. The left-hander took a line drive from Aviles off the chestin the third inning and left after completing four innings, allowing two runs and three hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Left-hander Jake McGee limited Boston to one run and one hit over 2.2 innings, and though Aviles belted a three-run home run off lefty Cesar Ramos in the seventh, it was evident the Red Sox would lose yet another September game.
In the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Carl Crawford (who did not start because he was 0-for-9 against Price) lined a double off J.P. Howell. Right-hander Joel Peralta was summoned, and for some reason Terry Francona let the right-handed hitting Darnell McDonald stroll to the plate. Not surprisingly McDonald (who is hitting .214, including a .140 mark against right-handers), popped out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth against Peralta, the Red Sox showed little fight as Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out and Marco Scutaro flied out. Ellsbury rifled a double off Peralta, but Aviles was dismissed on a game-ending fly out.
Not only did the Red Sox see another ineffective outing from a starting pitcher and more shoddy defense, but the bullpen once again let them down. Left-hander Andrew Miller walked two batters, uncorked a wild pitch and served up a key two-run single with two outs to Zobrist in the seventh inning.
At the time, that gave the Rays an 8-2 lead, but if Miller escaped the inning without giving up a run, they could have pulled within 6-5 with Aviles’ three-run home run.
The fact that Francona had to turn to arms like Scott Atchison, Miller (who is not ready to pitch in important games) and Matt Albers (who did toss 1.1 scoreless innings but has an 8-plus ERA in the second half) emphasizes just of the myriad of problems facing the reeling Red Sox, which open a four-game series with a day-night doubleheader against the Orioles on Monday.
The Rays have Monday off before opening a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost again are still 4.5 games ahead in the American League East.
Boston’s pitching situation is in such disarray that Francona is starting rookie Kyle Weiland (who is best suited as a reliever) and the up-and-down John Lackey on Monday.
The Red Sox have 10 games left, seven versus Baltimore and a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. The Rays have 10 games remaining, including seven against the Yankees and three against the Blue Jays.
The Rays deserve to be in the playoffs because they are playing baseball the right way. The Red Sox are embarrassing the franchise with their lack of fundamentals and their inability to deliver when it matters. It was a different story when the calendar read April and there was time for the team to overcome a 2-10 start. It is late September. Ten games are left, and even if Boston somehow holds on and reaches the playoffs, the Tigers and Rangers are like the Rays – much better teams going the right direction at the right time.