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How in the world did the Red Sox land in this abyss?

Rob Bradford
August 11, 2019 - 9:53 pm

This one felt different. This one felt more like the end than any of the others.

The Red Sox are eight games out (in the loss column) of a Wild Card berth with 42 games to play. They are just four games over .500. Yes, this loss -- a 5-4, 10-inning defeat at the hands of the Angels -- seemed to send the last bit of optimism down the drain.

Before the game, there was hope regarding the Red Sox' postseason chances. At least that was their manager's message.

"We have a shot," said Alex Cora at approximately 11:05 a.m. "We have a real shot. It’s not a fake one. We’ll take care of today, win this series, we’ll go to Cleveland. Do that, and like I said, we’re going to be creative towards the end of the month now with the off-day."

Then, six hours or so later, a familiar refrain was resurfaced.

"It’s something we’ve been doing the whole season," the manager responded when asked about key miscues. "We’ve been talking about it. Been inconsistent. That way, it’s tough to make it to the playoffs."

We've gone through this before, where a page is turned only to flip back right into the previous chapter. But even the tone of Cora in the postgame presser suggested this wasn't just one 162. The Yankees. The Rays. Their importance was obvious. This one was the Angels. But believe or not it felt like more of punctuation than any of the others.

Maybe it was because so much what ailed the Red Sox in this most winnable of games represented the impetus for how they landed at this point.

Andrew Cashner: The guy Dave Dombrowski was quick to reference when talking about July roster-tweaking and trade activity/inactivity was a disaster. He got five outs, walked five batters, gave up three hits and allowed three runs while digging the Red Sox a hole on a day they needed anything but.

This has been a disaster. Cashner has made six starts for the Red Sox with opponents hitting .339 with a 1.019 OPS. In 30 1/3 innings, he has allowed 61 baserunners. That is 61. The easy comparison would be to the trade deadline acquisition of Erik Bedard, who pitched extremely well leading up to the Red Sox trade in 2011 only to give his new team eight starts of mediocre pitching. That wouldn't be fair to the Bedard family.

There wasn't much to glean out of the postgame comments emanating from either Cora or Cashner after the game. Cora was very matter-of-fact in his assessment, citing the righty's complete lack of command. Cashner offered the tone that some bristle at around these parts, simply saying he needs to get better and is already looking toward his next start. 

"It’s been frustrating since the Yankees game," said Cashner, who owns a 8.01 ERA in his six starts with the Red Sox. "But there is still a lot of season left. I think I might maybe have eight starts left. Just put this behind me and just keep looking forward, keep working with Dana (LeVangie), get back on track and give us a chance to where we want to go."

This was a very Bedard-esque response. It all seemed way too familiar.

The bullpen: Matt Barnes is going to be put in the crosshairs for this one, giving up the game-tying homer to Kole Calhoun leading off the eighth inning. But much like the day before, the true takeaway is how the Red Sox seem at least one arm short. Just like Saturday, the most important damage when Cora was forced to extend a reliever a second inning. First, it was Darwinzon Hernandez, and this time it was Barnes. By the time Ryan Weber was called upon to pitch a second straight day (ultimately surrendering the game-winning run) expectations were out the window. Bad start. A reliever short. Sound familiar?

Decisions, decisions, decisions: It's unfair to pin the hopes and dreams on a guy who was just called up a few hours before his Red Sox debut, but Chris Owings' presence represented how the Sox' world isn't spinning the same way as a year ago. On paper it made little sense to start Owings, nevermind hit him leadoff.

But in 2018 seemingly unorthodox moves often were Cora's bread and butter. This one, unfortunately for the Red Sox, followed the predicted script with Owings going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. 

There were other moments that reminded us the magic was on hiatus.

After Mitch Moreland led off the eighth with a walk, Cora chose to use Mookie Betts -- who had started the day on the bench -- as a pinch-runner instead of that of a pinch-hitter. That was followed by a pop-up bunt attempt from Christian Vazquez, who already had launched an absolute missile over the left-field wall. Then came Betts easily being thrown out trying to steal. It was one thing after another, and none of it was working.

Details, details, details: Remember when Cora ranted about the Red Sox not paying attention to details back in the second series of the season? Well ...

Take, for example, Rafael Devers attempting to steal third after his one-out double in the first inning. Rally killed. The Vazquez ill-advised bunt. The Betts' failed stolen base attempt. Or how about Barnes' ill-fated pitch to Calhoun that split the middle of the plate? While the offering was obviously misplaced, a replay showed his catcher setting up right down the middle instead of the high-and-inside area the pitcher later said he was trying to get to. That wouldn't have seemed to be part of the plan.

Same old story. Just a little off. Price paid.

Now the new narrative will have to start in Cleveland against the hottest team in the American League. The Red Sox are saying all the right things, and are clearly flummoxed by how their efforts are going unrewarded. It seems like a longshot, however, that Cora's club is going to reach the end of this month feeling any different than its current lot in life.

This is where they've landed and this, apparently, is who they are.