Bradford: Red Sox have 10 games to feel good about themselves again

Rob Bradford
September 20, 2018 - 12:52 am

USA Today Sports

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NEW YORK -- By the time you read this the Red Sox could be showering themselves in champagne, owners of the American League East title.

At this writing, a few hours after the Red Sox' 10-1 shellacking at the hands of the Yankees, there was still no celebration. But it is coming. Whether it is Yankee Stadium, Progressive Field, or Fenway Park. That's why those wearing their Boston garb could walk out into the Bronx night knowing the show was just put on pause.

But there is something that even the Moet won't wash away when that time arrives. That's the feeling that this 100-plus-win team isn't exactly peaking. It is seemingly surviving.

Let's start with what was surfaced Wednesday night.

Eduardo Nunez re-injured his right knee in the ninth inning. Whether severe or not, this has become an ailment that clearly is going to linger. And if that is the case then the Red Sox will have to lean on Rafael Devers, whose defense and uneven offense continues to be as murky as Nunez's knee.

David Price had his worst outing since the last time he pitched in Yankee Stadium, falling victim to three cheapy home runs and a key two-run error by Nunez. By the end of his 5 1/3 innings, there were six runs allowed (4 earned), four walks and the attempt to decipher how big a step back this was.

"No not really we know where we’re at with those two guys. Our No. 1 and No. 2 with Chris (Sale) and David," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora when asked if he would need to steer Price away from a playoff start in Yankee Stadium. "I honestly feel like although he didn’t have his great stuff compared to the last eight or nine I guess he still battled and we didn’t make a play and then the fly balls happened. But yeah it’s not going to change my mind."

It's fine if Cora and others want to downplay Price's results, but it certainly isn't a welcome development that the pitcher who was one of the few bits of certainty has been detoured.

There is Chris Sale needing two more starts to build himself up to normal before the postseason. Rick Porcello's ups and downs. The tantalizing and frustrating existence of Nathan Eovaldi. An Eduardo Rodriguez who hasn't quite earned the right to be called a top-of-the-rotation no-doubter. And do we have to even mention the bullpen? OK, but just briefly.

Craig Kimbrel is the closer. We might see him pitching more than just the ninth inning in the coming days and weeks. And, guess what? We don't know how that is going to work out.

Steven Wright. Ryan Brasier. Matt Barnes. Bobby Poyner. Brandon Workman. Joe Kelly. Heath Hembree. Brian Johnson. All have potential. None carry the air of certainty. That's all there is to say about that.

What is now making a hard charge toward the top of the list of discomfort is what the Red Sox are doing with their offense. It hasn't been much. Only two times this month have the Sox managed more than one home run. Since Sept. 2 they carry a .664 OPS, hitting just .234 with two homers with runners in scoring position. The punch they grew used to for much of the season simply hasn't been there.

"There are a few good guys struggling, we know," Cora said. "We faced some good pitching too, lately, so it’s a combination of both. I do think that sometimes we’re getting too passive at the plate. We’re taking too many pitches right down the middle, which, I think, they’re bad takes. We talk about it the whole season. Get back to look for pitches in the middle of the zone and try to do damage with it. I think that’s very important for us."

We've seen how things can change over the course of 10 games plenty of times this season. That's how baseball works. But it's a little different when you integrate a race against time.

That's what the Red Sox are finding out now.

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