BOSTON -- Of the many issues that have plagued the Red Sox throughout a tumultuous 2023 season, the team's putrid defense continues to be Boston's downfall. When it comes to miscues in the field, third baseman Rafael Devers is leading the charge.
Sure, there are other factors for why Boston sits at 69-64 and seemingly miles out of a playoff spot. You could point to the lack of effectiveness and overall health in the starting rotation. That has taxed the bullpen and has relievers running on fumes before the calendar even turns to September. There's also the team's horrendous baserunning, with players running into outs on the base paths like it's a nice dance craze.
But through the team's few ups and many downs this season, the defense has remained downright dreadful. The Red Sox lead all of baseball with 92 errors, and that doesn't include the many instances throughout the season when the hometown scorer was extremely generous to Boston fielders. (The opposing hitters credited for hits on those should-be errors are probably grateful too.)
Error No. 92 came at a costly moment of Tuesday night's 6-2 loss to the Astros at Fenway Park. Starter Brayan Bello had calmed down on the hill after allowing back-to-back solo homers in the first inning, and the Sox trailed just 2-1. But with one out in the top of the fifth, Devers bobbled a grounder off the bat of Mauricio Dubon and airmailed his throw to first. It was the 17th error of the season for Devers, tying him for the most blunders this season.
Instead of two outs and no one on, Bello was now working with one out and a runner on first. Dubon stole second, Bello walked Jeremy Pena, and then that disastrous defense struck again.
Bello got the pesky Jose Altuve to hit a soft grounder up the middle, which seemingly should have led to an inning-ending double play. Second baseman David Hamilton fielded the grounder in a perfect spot to simply step on the bag and fire to first for two easy outs, but it wasn't so easy.
Hamilton had no problem with the first out, but then put his throw to first in the dirt, which Triston Casas couldn't scoop out and end the inning. No error was charged, since you can't assume a double play -- even if the ball is hit right at the second baseman and all he needs to do is step on the bag and make a halfway decent throw to first.
Add that to the long list of plays that aren't errors in the scorebook, but were extremely costly to the Red Sox' hopes of winning a ballgame. The frame continued for the Astros, and Alex Bregman made Boston pay with an RBI single to make it a 3-1 contest. Bello's night was over after that, and the Astros went on to win 6-2. They'll go for a series sweep of the Red Sox Wednesday afternoon.
After the loss, Alex Cora said those two infield gaffes changed the makeup of the game.
"We didn't make two routine plays and they are really good at what they do," he said. "We put ourselves in a bad spot by not making plays."
You could print "Not Making Plays" on a banner and it could be the rallying cry for the Red Sox defense in 2023. Defense just doesn't seem very important to Chaim Bloom, who thought it was a good idea to turn Enrique Hernandez into the team's everyday shortstop. He had 15 errors at the position before he was essentially given away to the Dodgers last month.
While Devers is producing strong numbers at the plate, he's taken a massive hit in the WAR department because of his defense. He made strides defensively last season, but has fallen back to being a liability at the hot corner this season. He's signed for 10 more years after this season, and chances are he won't be manning third base for the majority of those seasons.
The Red Sox aren't particularly strong anywhere defensively this year, and they're hurtling toward being one of the worst defensive teams ever -- if not the worst defensive team ever. The 2017 Mets own that title, finishing the season with a minus-58 Outs Above Average.
The 2023 Red Sox are currently at minus-49 Outs Above Average.
"We are where we are because we have struggled in certain areas of the game," Cora said. "And it's catching up to us."
It caught up to them a long, long time ago. If Bloom has any desire to truly get the team back into contention this offseason, he should probably place a much bigger emphasis on the team playing respectable defense in the field.
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