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Here comes the adversity for the Red Sox

Rob Bradford
May 16, 2018 - 8:38 am

Remember 17-2?

Tuesday was one of those days that probably made it tough for Alex Cora to recall those first few weeks of this season. It was a bad day for the Red Sox' manager and his team's second straight loss to the A's -- a 5-3 decision ending way too late due to Mother Nature -- was just a small part of the equation. And so was the reality of the American League East standings, which has the Sox sitting a game behind the feel-good Yankees. (For a complete recap, click here.)

Cora was reminded that when it comes to adversity in Boston with these Red Sox, when it rains it pours.

Where do we start?

Well, it's not every day Dave Dombrowski feels it necessary to call a last-minute, pregame press conference to address a pitcher potentially suffering a season-ending shoulder injury due to a fit of rage. But that's exactly what the president of baseball operations had to do, trying to get out in front of Carson Smith's glove-throwing-induced subluxation.

Then came Cora, still not having posted the lineup more than an hour after the usual time due to the dealings regarding Smith. 

Both Red Sox decision-makers offered the impression that they were moving on, with such injuries the kind of thing that was inevitable throughout the course of a season. But, in reality, this one a was accompanied by an additional few uncomfortable optics. For one, this was another reminder that the Red Sox' bullpen is far from a settled entity.

Smith was becoming a relied upon force, having given up runs in just two of his last 14 outings. And against left-handed hitters, this was a guy who had limited opponents to just two hits in 20 at-bats. And making matters at least slightly worse, the other semi-recently-acquired eighth inning solution, Tyler Thornburg, is taking a bit of a break after experiencing mixed results and lowered velocity in recent rehab outings.

And while Smith would ultimately go in front of the media to take responsibility, he did throw out the notion that the right shoulder injury might have been caused in part to overuse. ("I think my shoulder's tired in general. Just from pitching. I've thrown a lot lately and I think my arm was just tired," he said.) Even the slightest sort of insinuation is another uneasy look.

They have Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, and Matt Barnes to get through the final two innings. Heath Hembree is there, also. And now Bobby Poyner and Steven Wright are in the mix, along with Brian Johnson. As currently constituted, with the continued uncertainty of Thornburg, it sure is looking like another July of reliever-shopping for Dombrowski.

And just to punctuate things, there was the actual game, which only highlighted the same sort of discomfort surfaced earlier in the afternoon.

Two outs, two runners on, eighth inning, Red Sox trailing by just a run and Poyner on the mound. That's the recently-recalled rookie. After going to a 2-0 count, Oakland's Matt Canha rifled a changeup into the left-field corner for a two-RBI dagger. It's now a bullpen that has allowed 36 percent of its inherited runners to score, four percent above MLB average. It's also a team that now has a 4.61 ERA in the eighth inning. Not good.

To Cora's credit, when asked about not going to Kelly or Barnes in such a critical situation, he reiterated once again that he wasn't about to go "searching wins." And, no matter what you have at your disposal, or what kind of day this has been, that is the correct attitude to have. It's the lesson of 2017.

There were other bumps in the road.

Andrew Benintendi had another horrific baserunning blunder, ending a first-inning threat by inexplicably overrunning third base on the slow roller to the exact same bag, negating what would have been a bases-loaded opportunity. It the continuation of a trend.

"I'm just looking for answers," said Cora regarding his team's baserunning. "In that play, there's nothing you can do. He's anticipating play, it's a slow roller, an average runner, there's not going to be a play at first. I don't know if he thought [Matt] Chapman was going to throw on the run to first but you've just got to be careful, you've got to be smart in that situation, it's bases loaded, two outs and I don't think there's a chance to score on that play. We'll go back and talk to them and keep working. I've been saying this every night. That's not good. But hopefully they get it and they'll understand there's a value of outs and it's very important. We'll keep preaching that."

More? How about the lack of production from the bottom of the order? This time you had Eduardo Nunez, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez go a combined 0-for-11 (although Brock Holt did manage the Red Sox' first pinch-hit of the season when subbing in for Vazquez). While the catcher's struggles (.173 batting average) have been well-documented, Nunez's struggles are creeping up on the Red Sox. He's hitting just .233 with a .613 OPS, 17th among second basemen.

And while Eduardo Rodriguez wasn't a chief problem this time around (although he did go just five innings), the outing certainly didn't do anything to change the recent conversation regarding the team's starting pitchers. In the last 18 games, the Sox' starters now have a 5.04 ERA.

The good news? The Celtics won.

Rodriguez started slow but managed to salvage what turned into a five-inning outing. The lefty allowed all three of his runs in the first two innings, before shutting down the A's for his final three frames, striking out four and not walking a batter in the process.