August 30, 2021
The term “Snake Bit” applies to a scenario where everything that can go wrong, does eventually go wrong. In other words, when Murphy’s Law transcends from theory to reality, you’ve been Snake Bit. And I can’t think of a better term to describe these Boston Red Sox.
To think that back in July, I was gearing up to watch these guys battle for the number one American League playoff seed. As September comes upon us, heading into a stretch where the Red Sox will play division-leading Tampa Bay seven times in a stretch of ten games, they are eight games out of first place and 2.5 games behind the Yankees for the first wild card spot.
Considering the number of gut-wrenching losses that the Red Sox have had to deal with over the past six weeks, it’s actually kind of amazing that they are even sitting in a playoff position at the moment. They have suffered every kind of horrible loss imaginable and found new and interesting ways to lose games ever since the trade deadline passed, yet they would be in a one-game playoff against the Yankees if the postseason started today. Of course, the playoffs don’t start today, and I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing for this team.
Take the last three series they played against the Rangers, Twins, and Indians. Boston won two-out-of-three games in each series, going 6-3 over those nine games. That’s usually a positive stretch that any team can feel good about, even if the teams are terrible (which they all are). However, each loss during this stretch was a devastating, embarrassing groin punch that made Sox fans question whether they should just call it quits on this season. The Rangers loss was a complete mental breakdown in which the team committed five errors, while the Twins and Indians losses saw the bullpen humiliate themselves against weak lineups after the starting pitchers and offense put the team in a great position to win those games.
In retrospect, it feels like the Red Sox lost seven or eight of those last nine games. This is largely because the Rays and Yankees win every game that they play now, creating more distance between themselves and Boston on a daily basis. Tampa and New York are both 9-1 over their last 10 games, essentially turning the division race into a two-horse sprint to the finish line with a month left to play. The only solace I can take from this is that this has to be incredibly frustrating for Yankee fans. They won 11 straight games in the second half of August, passing the Red Sox in the standings along the way, yet they are still 5.5 games behind a team that attracts less viewers in their market than Golden Girls reruns.
When the Red Sox were a wagon during the first half of the season, their starting pitching was undoubtedly the weakest aspect of their game while their relief pitching excelled. When the freefall out of first place began in mid-July, it was mostly attributed to the offense going ice cold. Now that the offense has picked it up a bit, thanks in part to the addition of Kyle Schwarber and another monster month from Hunter Renfroe, all the dead weight resides in the bullpen.
Matt Barnes has fallen apart in August for the 35th time in his seven-year career. Garrett Whitlock’s lights-out first half has been derailed by the pressure of the Boston spotlight in the dog days of summer. Josh Taylor’s fluky run of dominance is over, replaced once more with the dismissive mediocrity that had always defined him until May of 2021. Hansel Robles and Austin Davis were deadline acquisitions that have done nothing to help the matter, as they have proven to be borderline useless. They were both outright failures in Sunday’s collapse in Cleveland, spoiling an effort where Rafael Devers drilled two home runs and Boston took a 4-0 lead into the sixth. Half the bullpen was unavailable due to recent use, and Robles and Davis showed us all that they are incapable of stepping it up when their team needs them.
That’s not to say that the offense is blameless here. Devers hit two homers on Sunday and Bobby Dalbec hit another, and the team still only managed five runs. The Red Sox have become the antithesis of what they were in the first four months of the season. They have forgotten how to manufacture runs. Just like the Yankees of the first half of 2021, they cannot score if they are not hitting the ball into the seats. They pop up or foul off mistake pitches that should be lined into a gap or grounded down a foul line. J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts falling off to a staggering degree are the biggest reasons for this decline. The Sox rode the red-hot trinity to a monumental first half, and have now sunken back to earth now that two-thirds of it has been painfully pedestrian at the plate for so long.
I hate to say that the naysayers were correct, and I won’t. Anybody who said all season long that the Red Sox were going to collapse is either a fan of another team that was trolling us or a sports radio personality that is paid to piss and moan about everything. Neither type of person is worth acknowledging in a serious debate. I do, however, have to give half a shoutout to the halfwits that said the sky was falling simply because all Chaim Bloom picked up at the trade deadline was Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber has given a lift to this offense, but not enough of a lift to overcome the abysmal second-half performance of the bullpen. Since the trade deadline doom-and-gloomers were citing a need to boost the starting pitching and the offense rather than the bullpen as July 31st approached, this perennially pessimistic subset of fans cannot truly declare themselves right. Chris Sale has considerably deepened the Red Sox rotation, and with the exception of Eduardo Rodriguez, the starting pitching has been excellent of late. Nobody foresaw the Sox bullpen turning on a dime and transforming from the greatest strength of this team to its biggest liability. There’s not a single Red Sox relief pitcher that I feel good about as I see them jog in from the bullpen anymore, and it’s evident that the entire team feels the same way.
If what I’ve already covered doesn’t show you that this team is Snake Bit, how about losing Kike Hernandez and Christian Arroyo to the Covid Injured List? I’ve said all along that Arroyo is the energy guy that this team needs to help keep their confidence high and make big plays in clutch situations. It’s no coincidence that he has barely seen the field throughout this entire collapse, first with a hamstring injury, now as a close contact to a player with Covid. As for Kike, he’s a .250 hitter that bats leadoff. His numbers are not out of this world, but Dodgers fans were right about him. He has stepped up in a lot of big spots this year, and he’s been a fantastic addition to the team. Losing these two for indefinite periods of time has significantly jacked up the incline setting of the treadmill the Red Sox must conquer to reach the postseason.
When you look at the season as a whole, hell, the Red Sox are 18 games above .500. In most years, that kind of record almost guarantees that you are in a close race to win the division. The electric first half they put together this year is the reason why they still have a chance to make the playoffs. However, it is also the reason why so many Boston fans are disgusted and ready to walk into traffic.
As I said in April, Major League Baseball had low preseason expectations for the Red Sox. While their great first half invigorated fans, it also put the team in their crosshairs in the event that they sunk back down to earth. If the Sox had a middling start to the season before gradually improving to become a 75-57 team occupying third place in an absolutely stacked division, many fans would be cautiously optimistic and excited for 2022 and beyond. But if you plop a juicy prime rib in a hungry Doberman’s dish, you can’t pull it away from him and replace it with a can of tuna.
The Red Sox travel to Tampa for a three-game series starting Monday night, and I don’t expect it to go well. The Tampa Bay Rays are flat out better at playing baseball than the Boston Red Sox. There’s not a single thing that the Red Sox do better than them, and nobody has any idea why that is. As aggravating as it is from a Boston fan’s perspective, it showcases so much about what makes baseball great. The two best teams in baseball are the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Francisco Giants. They don’t outspend everybody, they don’t pluck stars away from poor teams, and they don’t have rosters full of elite players. They play hard for each other, they don’t make mistakes, and when your team does make a mistake, they capitalize every time. If Tom “Iceman” Kazansky was a Major League Baseball player, you can bet your ass he’d be a Ray or a Giant.
With the Red Sox shorthanded, slumping, unable to beat good teams, and bereft of confidence, I’m basically hoping for a miracle this week in Tampa. In other words, this team needs to hear some fightin’ words. And I know just the guy that can deliver them.