Why it's about to get very real for these Red Sox

Rob Bradford
July 15, 2019 - 9:11 am

This is a results business, and the overall result for the Red Sox wasn't what they were hoping for: One win in three games against the Dodgers at Fenway Park.

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There were a few items, besides just the back-to-back losses to Los Angeles, that offered discomfort for Alex Cora's crew. Most notably, Chris Sale's performance Saturday. The Steven Wright injury certainly isn't going to help matters. And Andrew Benintendi continuing his trend of swinging and missing -- going 1-for-13 with five strikeouts -- also isn't a feather in the Red Sox' collective cap.

But when the final out of the series was made at approximately 12:45 a.m. Monday, with the Red Sox having to leave the park carrying a 7-4, 12-inning loss while being serenaded by rambunctious Dodgers fans there should have been a measure of optimism. (For a complete recap, click here.)

It finally felt like this team might be able to hang with the big boys.

"You could see the way those guys played with their intensity and focus that they wanted this series," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "I thought it was very focused baseball and two equal ballclubs."

Two equal ballclubs. For the 2019 Red Sox, that hasn't been necessarily the vibe when matching up against baseball's best.

The Dodgers ultimately were able to win the series by getting to Hector Velazquez for three runs in the 12th. But other than a bad baserunning play by Jackie Bradley Jr. that wiped out the enthusiasm from his leadoff double in the 11th, along with an ill-advised fielder's interference from Velazquez (leading the wheels coming off the cart), it was difficult to work up doomsday analysis for this one.

Would the Red Sox have won the likes of Sunday night's game a year ago? Perhaps. But for what this team needs heading into what figures to be a defining 14-game stretch against the Yankees and Rays a week from now, the steps taken were probably good enough.

The back-to-back home runs by Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in the eighth inning, tying the game at 4-4, was the kind of resiliency this team is going to need. They also helped highlight what the Sox have found themselves in terms of a middle-of-the-order bat belonging to Bogaerts, who finished the series reaching base seven times in his 13 plate appearances while hitting three homers.

Sure, the Red Sox undoubtedly would have like to have Price find a way to avoid some of that Dodgers contact  ...

... but the five-inning, 113-pitch outing wasn't going to send the kind of alarms Sale's start clearly surfaced. Price's only real miscue came on an opposite field, 326-foot, three-run homer from A.J. Pollack in the first finning. Other than that, Price's existence wasn't going to headline this 5-hour, 40-minute affair.

What was, and will be, of the utmost importance for the Red Sox is the success and failure of their bullpen. Other than Velazquez, that group lived up to the organization's hype. Josh Taylor, Colten Brewer, Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree combined to turn in six one-inning stints, not allowing a single run. This against one of the most challenging lineups in baseball.

As enthusiastic as the crowds were over the first three days back from the All-Star break, with the Dodgers representing a pretty sexy mid-July storyline, this was still just the warmup for a Red Sox team that now finds themselves 2 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot and seven over .500.

The Red Sox got their trade deadline acquisition (Andrew Cashner), along with a taste of the urgency that awaits.

Now comes reality.

Two series against two games (Blue Jays, Orioles) who winning the series against is non-negotiable, followed the gauntlet made up by the Rays and Yankees. The opportunity to reflect on these sort of moral victories have come to an end. So soak it in, because now it's going to get very real.

"Yesterday was bad. Today … that was a good baseball game," Cora noted. "We just ran out of pitching. They did a good job against David. The swing by Pollock in the first inning and then he got a pitch up in the zone, got to it with two strikes in the fifth. They fouled off a lot of pitches to get that pitch count up. And then after that the bullpen was amazing all the way to the end, so it’s a tough one, obviously. We had a shot to win the game multiple times and it didn’t happen. It wasn’t a bad game at all."