By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The American League East is expected to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of Major League Baseball this season. In fact, it may prove to be the toughest one of all. And the ultimate winner of the division will likely end up being the team that fares the best against fellow AL East foes.
And after playing 10 games against AL East opponents ... the Boston Red Sox are currently 3-7.
That's not going to cut it.
Fresh off losing a series on Sunday in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox headed to Toronto on Monday to open a four-game set with the Blue Jays. With manager Alex Cora still absent due to COVID-19, bench coach Will Venable opted to lift starter Nathan Eovaldi after seven innings, with his pitch count at just 72 on the evening. That decision came just after the Red Sox had tied the game at 2-2, thanks to a Kiké Hernandez RBI single and an Alex Verdugo sacrifice fly.
It immediately backfired.
Matt Strahm surrendered a one-out single to Santiago Espinal before Bradley Zimmer reached base on a bunt hit for a single. Bobby Dalbec should have fielded Strahm's diving flip to first base, but regardless, the reliever exited with two on and one out in the eighth.
That set the stage for Tyler Danish -- who was recalled to fill one of the two spots on the roster vacated by Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford due to their vaccination status -- to enter the game. Danish promptly gave up a single and then a grand slam. Game (essentially) over.
It was a new way to lose a baseball game for a team that's taken various avenues thus far in the young season.
On Sunday, the Red Sox lost a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning following starter Rich Hill's departure from the game after just four innings of work. Phillips Valdez hit two batters and walked another before Ryan Brasier entered and allowed all three inherited runners to score.
In that game, the Boston offense mustered just two hits and zero runs after a four-hit, two-run first inning. And that loss of course came one day after getting no-hit through nine innings on Saturday, only to plate two runs in the top of the 10th ... but then surrendering three runs in the bottom of the inning to lose the game -- a loss where a missed routine play by Dalbec could have made the difference in winning or losing.
The Red Sox' lone win of the Tampa series was rather dicey, with Jake Diekman walking the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Boston clinging to a one-run lead.
In fact, all three of Boston's wins against AL East opponents have been by just one run. They've also lost three one-run games to AL East opponents (two in extra innings), getting outscored 40-26 overall in the 10 games vs. the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays.
Meanwhile, the first-place Blue Jays are 5-3 thus far against AL East opponents. The second-place Yankees are 5-5, and the third-place Rays are 5-1. Even the Orioles -- by all accounts a miserable baseball team -- are 2-4 vs. the AL East thus far, good for a better winning percentage in the division than the Red Sox currently have.
The issues with the Red Sox are certainly multiple.
Their bats have been massively underwhelming, with the team's .621 OPS ranking 11th in the American League, and their teamwide OBP ranking third-to last in the AL at .274.
Their team ERA likewise ranks 11th in the AL. Their starters rank ninth in the AL with a collective 4.12 ERA, and the bullpen also ranks ninth in the AL with a 3.50 ERA. As a total staff, the Red Sox' WHIP of 1.254 ranks 10th in the American League.
None of that is good enough. Some of it -- well, really, just the offense -- should resolve itself. The pitching? That may simply be what it is. When Tyler Danish is getting the ball in a high-leverage spot, there may not be a great late-innings solution on the horizon. Overall, though, there's been a feeling with this team that if it's not one thing, it's another. If the starter goes deep, the bats go silent. If the offense does its job, the bullpen and/or the defense falters. Rarely has the full team been in sync for any extended stretch in the first month of the season.
Stack on top of that some unfortunate managerial decisions and their inability to win series (they're 1-3-1 in series thus far and are down 1-0 in their current four-game set in Toronto), and it's undoubtedly a troubling start for the team that was two wins away from reaching the World Series just six months ago.
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