McAdam: Sox almost facing must-win

191542.jpg

McAdam: Sox almost facing must-win

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was supposed to be the final game of the next-to-last road trip of the regular season, no more or less meaningful than the 75 other road games they've already played.

Instead, after a crushing, 6-5, extra-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday night, it's become awfully close to a must-win for the Red Sox.

Coming into this series, the Red Sox needed one win against the hard-charging Rays. One win Friday or Saturday would have halted the Rays' momentum. The math would have meant that the best the Rays could hope to make up during the series was a net improvement of one game in standings.

That wouldn't have been enough, with just over two weeks to go in the season. A six-game difference in the loss column would have been too imposing.

But not now. Thanks to Red Sox losses Friday and Saturday, the Red Sox have lost four in a row, six out of seven, nine of 12. They have seen their margin for the wild card shaved to four games.

What they've done, really, is held the door open for the Rays and invited them to join the playoff push.

This is the invitation the Rays have been waiting for all season. They did nothing at the trade deadline, hamstrung by the improbability of making up all that ground in the final two months, and, as always, payroll limitations.

September was going to be all about the Red Sox and Yankees, jocking for position, angling for the division title, with the loser taking the wild card spot.

Not anymore. It's close to becoming a three-team race. There's still time for the Rays, who have four games remaining with the Sox next weekend at Fenway and seven with the Yankees.

The Yankees, too, suddenly have problems of their own, having lost four straight. If the Red Sox had merely played .500 or so through the first six games of this road trip, they likely would be tied or leading the division.

But that's a discussion for another time, because winning the division is, suddenly, far from the Red Sox' biggest priority. The biggest challenge is making sure they get to the playoffs at all.

Two weeks ago, that sort of statement would have been silly. Back then, seeding was the lone concern. That, and trying to decide whether the Sox would be better off playing Texas or Detroit in the Division Series.

That seems like a long time ago now. Injuries have torn apart the rotation and robbed the Sox, for now, of their cleanup hitter.

They're not sure who's going to start for them three games from now, and they don't know who's their best option for the seventh inning.

In the big picture, however, the problems are simpler. One more loss here would change the face of the final two weeks, and turn September from tune-up time to survival mode.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

red_sox_mookie_betts_082516.jpg

Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals

QUOTES:

"We continually do a great job in creating opportunities and I'm confident that (the struggles with men in scoring position) will turn.'' - John Farrell

"When you start off with a five-run spot in the first, that's a tough deficit to overcome.'' - Steven Wright.

"That's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes, we score when we're not expecting to and then when we need to score, sometimes it doesn't happen.'' - Mookie Betts on the team going 4-for-15 with RISP.

 

NOTES:

* The loss was just the third in the last 13 series openers for the Red Sox.

* The game marked the first time in 20 home games in which the Sox never led.

* Boston was 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

* The first four hitters in the order were 13-for-19 (.684). The fifth-through-nine hitters, however, were just 2-for-21 (.095).

* Mookie Betts (five hits) leads the majors with 55 multi-hit games.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in each of his last eight plate appearances.

* David Ortiz's double was the 625th of his career, passing Hank Aaron to move into 10 place in MLB history.

* Ortiz leads the A.L. in doubles (41) and extra-base hits (72).

 

STARS:

1) Eric Hosmer

Hosmer cranked a three-run homer into the Monster Seats four batters into the game, and the Royals were off and running with a five-run inning.

2) Ian Kennedy

The Royals starter wasn't dominant, allowing nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, but he bailed himself out of a number of jams and limited the Sox to just two runs.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts had his first career five-hit night and knocked in two of the three Red Sox runs, though he also got himself picked off first base.

 

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

red_sox_steven_wright_082616.jpg

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.