Injuries and Losses Pile Up for Red Sox

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Before Sunday’s game, the Red Sox were forced to make a flurry of roster moves. In 1 day, they lost their backup catcher, Ryan Hannigan, to neck inflammation and their 3rd string catcher/starting left fielder, Blake Swihart, to a sprained foot/ankle that could cost him the remainder of the 2016 season and even worse, will remove him from any trade conversations. Those two injuries force the Red Sox to tap into some organizational depth by bringing up C Sandy Leon and OF Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox also optioned RHP Noe Ramirez to AAA and called up RHP Heath Hembree.

Although neither Hannigan’s nor Swihart’s absence is devastating for the Red Sox, the injuries come at a time when the team is struggling against divisional opponents and has seen their division lead disappear. The Red Sox are 4-6 in their last 10 games (1-4 in June), all against divisional opponents (Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays). They are now in a virtual tie with the Orioles for 1st place in the AL East, with the surging Blue Jays (8-2 in their last 10) just 2.5 games back. The divisional race is likely to be tight all year because no AL East team has great pitching, hitting and defense, each has at least 1 major flaw.

Through almost 1/3 of the season, the Red Sox are just 14-15 against the AL East, but 19-9 against all other opponents, many of whom are under .500 for the season (Oakland Athletics, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves). If you want to look at the positive, the Red Sox are taking care of business beating the teams they definitely should be beating, but that’s not enough. In order for the Red Sox to make the playoffs and contend in 2016, they have to beat divisional opponents.

It’s really simple. The Red Sox play their 4 divisional foes 19 times a piece, totaling 76 games in the division (47% of their schedule). If the Red Sox finish with a .500 record in the division, 38-38, then they need to go 52-34 (.605 winning percentage) against non-divisional opponents just to reach 90 wins, which may not be enough to make the playoffs. That’s a significant task for a team with an era of 4.38, ranking them 12th out of 15 AL teams. As good as the Red Sox offense can be, they will live or die by their pitching staff come September when the playoff push is in full force.

High-Flying Splitsville

After the first two games of the Red Sox 4-game set with the Orioles, it looked as if the two teams were going in opposite directions. The Baltimore Orioles had lost 7 of their last 10 games and had fallen to 3 games back of the 1st place Red Sox, who had won 7 of their last 10. They had mustered all of 5 extra base hits in the first 2 games of the series while their pitching staff had allowed 5 HRs to Mookie Betts alone. Then the tides turned dramatically.

In games 3 and 4 the Red Sox pitching staff allowed 25 runs on 25 hits including 7 HRs (all in game 4). Despite scoring 16 runs of their own, which should be enough to win even most nights even with a mediocre pitching staff, the Red Sox dropped the last 2 of the series and now find themselves just 1 game up in the AL East. The Red Sox are 5-5 in their last 10 games, 7 of the 10 coming against divisional foes. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier as they have another 3-game set against the Blue Jays, followed by a quick west coast swing to play the NL West leading San Francisco Giants for two games.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the 8 pitchers used by John Farrell all allowed at least 1 earned run, 6 of the 8 allowing at least 2 earned runs. The once surprisingly strong bullpen is coming back down to earth and the holes in the starting rotation are being exploited, especially against a good lineup like the Orioles. The common refrain that we all heard in Spring Training is getting louder: their pitching staff isn’t good enough to contend.

Although the final two games of the series were tough to watch at times (unless you love offense and don’t care about result), the Red Sox end the series with their division rivals exactly where they began: 1 game up in 1st place in the AL East. It could be worse.