Since Opening Day, the Boston Red Sox have faced the Tampa Bay Rays eighteen times. As of tonight, they’ve lost seven of those matchups.
It’s tough to see an exceptional team play this poorly, but there’s really no way around it: the Red Sox are in a slump.
It really shouldn’t be this difficult to beat the Rays. Or, at the very least, the Sox shouldn’t look this pathetic against them. I’m not optimistic for their final face-off of the season tomorrow, either. Regardless of the outcome, this will be their first series loss since July 1st.
These losses aren’t fun, but they’re not the end of the world. The Rays are like a small cut on your knuckle: inconvenient enough to cause you some discomfort, but not really damaging to your overall life. They’re nowhere near as good a team as the Indians, with whom the Sox split a 4-game series earlier this week. Boston is losing to great and average teams alike, which means it’s not so much who the Red Sox are playing as how the Red Sox are playing lately.
Take Mookie Betts, for instance. As shocking as it sounds, he’s currently the biggest problem in the lineup. Tonight, he was hitless for the fifth time in his last eight games. In that span, he’s hitting .152, and has gone 5-for-33 with eight strikeouts and just one extra-base hit. The erstwhile MLB home-run leader’s last homer came on August 9th against Toronto. It’s unfortunate, but not unsurprising that his slump is affecting his teammates’ offensive performances. In last night’s game, all thirteen Sox hits were singles, a confusing situation on the way to an embarrassing 10-3 loss.
The starting rotation’s weakness is showing, too. Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, and Chris Sale are all on the DL, and the only one remotely nearing a return is ERod. In the last eight days, Red Sox pitchers have a 4.72 ERA and have given up 11 home runs. The Sox head into September, the home stretch, with a weak bullpen and without the near-guarantee who is Chris Sale in their rotation. After going 2-5 in their last seven games, the mood is about as grim as it was after Sean Manaea no-hit us.
On the one hand, the Rays are a third-place team with a 69-61 record. Baseball Prospectus gives them a .7% chance of making the playoffs. So if the Red Sox – who BP gives a 100% likelihood of a postseason run – can’t win against them, it’s not really a big deal in the long-run. But it is still frustrating, disheartening, and worrisome that the Red Sox look so mediocre against a team of this caliber. They ‘drop’ to 90-41 on the season, still the best record in baseball by a wide margin. But that doesn’t mean nights like these are going to feel good.