Bradford: Why does everything seem so remarkably difficult for these Red Sox?

Rob Bradford
April 18, 2019 - 9:25 am

As Nathan Eovaldi was cruising to the Yankees' lineup Wednesday night it struck me.

No, it wasn't a sense of that all was suddenly right with the Red Sox' world with a starting pitcher actually living up to expectations. The feeling I couldn't shake was how mind-numbingly difficult it seemed to carry a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning against a lineup made up mostly of Triple-A players.

As easy as those 108 wins felt a year ago, every little step forward for this six-win team comes with the difficulty of a tractor pull.

And, sure enough, the mud only got thicker after Eovaldi exited. 

Brandon Workman loads the bases with a bunch of cutters that can't find the plate and then comes Ryan Brasier. Two breaking balls to a sub-.200 hitter in Brett Gardner allowed for a coveted 0-2 count. This, by the way, is where the 2018 Red Sox mark their territory by laughing in the face of a failed rally. This time? Nope. Brasier grooves a fastball right down the middle of the plate, resulting in a game-changing grand slam.

Never did it seem so difficult to throw a four-seam fastball at the letters. Bizarre.

Then there was the following inning when the Red Sox loaded the bases thanks to two-out singles from J.D. Martinez and Steve Pearce, followed by an Adam Ottavino walk to Mitch Moreland. The 2018 Red Sox? Take at least one pitch and ultimately land with a run-scoring hit. This time around it was Eduardo Nunez lunging at Ottavino's first offering, a slider well off the plate and below the knees, ending the inning and threat.

Truth be told, even to get to that point before Nunez's pop-out to right field seemed improbable. That's probably because a good chunk of the players being counted on to actually supply the kind of offense they have delivered in the past are lost. Jackie Bradley Jr. (.148), Mookie Betts (.200), Steve Pearce (.125), Christian Vazquez (.200) and Nunez (.159) all currently stride the plate looking like players hoping for positive results instead of hitters who are ready to put the opposition on their heels.

And when you take away some semblance of offensive ability in Blake Swihart and replace him with one of the worst hitters in baseball, Sandy Leon, on the 25-man roster it doesn't help matters. Knowing the catcher was the only available bat on the Sox' bench at game's end only adds to that feeling of swimming upstream.

That brings us back to Eovaldi.

I guess there should be some cause for celebration from the Red Sox side of things that a starting pitcher managed to turn in this kind of outing. But it honestly felt like this was the same level of difficulty that might come with a complete game shutout, not 18 outs.

(By the way, there have been 19 starts by Red Sox pitchers. Just two times have any of the starters notched an out in the seventh inning.)

Every pitch is agonized over. Each ball put in play has this team seemingly holding their collective breath. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is coming easy. Christian Vazquez hits a home run? You're waiting for the umpires to rule he didn't touch second base. Double play grounder? The end result seems so uncertain. Deep fly ball? Wherever it lands it doesn't feel like it will be to the Red Sox' liking.

When you have a run-differential of minus-42 after 19 games -- as USA Today's Bob Nightengale points out a spread never seen before after this many games from a World Series champ -- this feeling of dread is going to be a staple. But what makes the whole image so baffling is that these exact same players represented the exact opposite just six months before.

Maybe the Red Sox will remember how easy this game used to be for them to play this weekend. Unfortunately for Cora and Co., their reminder might be coming courtesy the team they now find themselves 8 1/2 games in back of, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Boy, things have changed.