Lack of shutdown innings hurts Red Sox

Lack of shutdown innings hurts Red Sox
August 16, 2014, 10:45 am
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By Maureen Mullen

BOSTON – Three things we learned in the Red Sox' 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Astros on Friday night at Fenway Park:

1) Red Sox pitching couldn’t shutdown innings with two outs.

Facing one of the worst teams in baseball – although, the Sox also find themselves in that category – Red Sox pitchers allowed the Astros to score all five runs with two outs. Starter Clay Buchholz gave up two runs on seven hits over seven innings. That’s a decent line. But both runs – including a tying home run by Robbie Grossman in the seventh – and five of the seven hits he allowed came with two outs. In the fifth inning, with the Sox leading 2-0, he allowed three consecutive batters – Nos. 8, 9, and 1 – to reach on two-out singles, cutting the Sox lead in half.

In the eighth, Edward Mujica allowed the only two batters he faced to reach base on consecutive singles to open the inning. Tommy Layne entered and struck out the only two batters he faced. Burke Badenhop entered, becoming part of one of the strangest plays of the season, as the Astros scored to tie it at 3.

Craig Breslow entered to start the 10th, allowing the first three batters to reach – on consecutive singles before hitting a batter. He got a fly ball, ending his outing. Junichi Tazawa entered, getting his first batter to pop up for the second out of the inning, before giving up a ground-rule, two-run double to Jake Marisnick, whose bloop hit fell just inside the foul line in shallow right field before bouncing into the seats.

It’s easy to find reasons – or excuses – for these kinds of hits. But, against a team that is on pace to have the third or fourth pick in the draft, the Sox need better pitching.

2. The Sox young players are playing like young players.

If Xander Bogaerts had to do it over again, he would have gone to first base with his eighth-inning play on Matt Dominguez’s soft line drive with two outs that tied the score.

Still, it wasn’t just the fielding play.

The Sox 6-9 hitters – Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley, and Christian Vazquez, three rookies and Middlebrooks, who is trying to re-establish himself – went a combined 1-for-15 with a run scored and five strikeouts. Vazquez, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored, is batting just .237 to lead the quartet. Middlebrooks is batting .176.

To be fair, though, there was little the Sox could do with Astros pitching. In all, they went 6-for-34 with three walks and 11 strikeouts. Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel recorded eight strikeouts, matching a season high for the third time.

3. Yoenis Cespedes can hit a baseball really far really fast.

Cespedes went 1-for-4, accounting for two of the Sox runs with his 20th home run of the season, third with the Sox, and first of his career in 10 games at Fenway Park. He opened the scoring with a laser-beam line drive that cleared the top of the wall in left field into the Monster seats, scoring David Ortiz, who led off the fourth with a single.

All three of Cespedes’ home runs since joining the Sox have given them the lead. In seven games since Aug. 8, he has driven in 10 of the Sox’ 31 runs, or 32 percent. He joined Evan Longoria as the only American League players since 2004 to hit at least 20 home runs in each of their first three major league seasons.