Hot on the heels of getting swept in Tampa, it would seem on its surface that a home series against the AAAA Marlins should be just what the Red Sox need to snap out of their funk. Combined with their excellent home record, the two game series seemed like it would be the perfect way to pick up a couple of easy wins before heading to Chicago to take on an equally dismal team in the White Sox. Of course, there's a reason why games are played on the field and not in the minds of fans and if anyone still feels good about this Red Sox team after the first game against Miami, then they weren't paying attention.
It seemed like the Sox were on their way when Ian Kinsler drove in Xander Bogaerts with an RBI single in the second, but Isaac Galloway homered off of Brian Johnson in the third to tie the game at a run apiece. The Sox put two more up in the bottom of the inning when Andrew Benintendi's double drove in a run followed by a sacrifice fly from Bogaerts. Eduardo Nunez added another in the sixth with a solo home run and at 4-1, Boston headed into the eighth inning looking like it would be an easy win against a bad team. Of course, it's never easy with the atrocious bullpen the Sox have, especially their middle relief. When JT Realmuto hit a two run bomb off of Matt Barnes, I was worried but felt okay since Boston still had the lead. But when Barnes gave up a solo shot to Starlin Castro to tie the game my concern turned in to anger. Heath Hembree came on in relief of Barnes and (I'm sure you know where this is going) proceeded to give up two more runs on a Rafael Ortega single. Just like that, the three run lead was wiped out and the Sox found themselves down by two heading into the bottom of the eighth. As I sat there in stunned disbelief, I felt the suppressed anger I've had toward the bullpen all season finally boil over. The middle relief has been this team's Achilles heel for the better part of three seasons yet here we are still trotting out the same bums like Barnes, Hembree, and Joe Kelly (who was actually alright in this one) game after game. It seemed unbelievable that the Sox were going to lose such a winnable game against a bad team because of these guys. Thankfully, as they've done all season, the bats bailed the bullpen out. Jackie Bradley came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs and proceeded to knock a single into center field to drive in two and tie the game. Mookie Betts was up next and walked but ball four was a wild pitch from Tayron Guerrero (who could barely throw strikes all inning) that sailed to the backstop and allowed Kinsler to score the go-ahead run. Heading into the ninth, the Sox were up a run and had Craig Kimbrel in to close...game over, right? Well, not necessarily given A) how bad Kimbrel has been the last month and a half, and B) how little he's pitched over the last two weeks since the team hasn't needed him. After giving up two walks, he allowed an RBI single to Magnerius Sierra (who was hitting a robust .168 going into that at bat) to allow Miami to tie the game. At that point, I threw my hands up in disgust and for the first time all season was really angry at this team. The Yankees had come back from four runs down to win their game against the White Sox and the Red Sox were in danger of allowing them to shave another game off the division lead with this disgusting performance. Lucky for Boston, they were still playing the bumbling Marlins. In the bottom of the ninth, Nunez grounded into what should've been an inning-ending double play, but JT Riddle threw the ball over the head of the first basemen which allowed JD Martinez to score the winning run and give the Sox a harder-than-it-needed-to-be 8-7 victory.
If you're a Red Sox fan (and if you're reading this, then you most likely are) you should not feel good about this win. At all. In fact, you should probably feel a little worse about this team than you did before the game (I know I do). Yes, they won, they ended their three game losing streak, and they kept the division lead at 6.5 games, but there is some serious cause for concern now and it rests almost solely with the bullpen. It's been a mantra of mine and others that the middle relief is terrible but if they can just get to Kimbrel, they're fine. This season, though, Kimbrel has been shaky and has shown none of the dominance that he has in years past. Even worse, since the All Star break he's been downright lousy, giving up more walks, hits, and blowing more saves than he ever has. I realize that relative to most other teams we're still in great shape at closer, but given the high bar he's set for himself we should all be worried. If this team can't hold a lead against a borderline major league lineup with nothing to play for in late August, how will they deal with a Yankees, Indians, Astros, or Athletics team in the October crucible? I've got no issues with Johnson, who continues to do what the Sox need every time he starts: keep it close and eat up some innings. In his 4.1 innings of work he struck out three, walked one, and only gave up one run on five hits. Brandon Workman and Kelly held down the fort after Johnson, but Barnes, Hembree, and Kimbrel blew it all away and were only saved by the offense. Miami outhit Boston 13-12 but the Sox were able to gut this one out. JD, Bogaerts, Nunez, Kinsler, and Bradley all had two hits in the game while Mookie and Benintendi chipped in with one each. It was an ugly win that raised more concerns than it allayed, but in the standings all that matters is the win and not how it was earned. The hand wringing is for us fans to deal with while the players just play. The Sox now look to the red hot David Price to shut down the Marlins as they go for the sweep Wednesday before moving on to Chicago for the next series. Hopefully Price can go deep in the game as he's been doing lately, not because the bullpen needs rest but more so that Alex Cora won't have to use them!