The Red Sox (59-49) suddenly find themselves looking up a bit further at the Rays (61-48) heading into tonight’s clash featuring Rick Porcello (9-7) against opener Andrew Kittredge (1-0).
Oy. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that the Boston Red Sox did precisely squat at today’s trade deadline, or the fact that the Astros made themselves, on paper, at least, prohibitive favorites to win the American League by acquiring Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks.
I’m talking about last night, and how it happened just as I’d feared it would, though it came about a bit differently than I would have imagined. Not so much Morton, but the Rays’ bullpen proved stingy when it counted most as the Sox left seven (7!!!) men on base in the late innings during last night’s 6-5 defeat. A common dig at New England sports fans is that their knowledge and analysis tends to be, well, New England-centric. And while I suppose that’s true, allow me to extend some credit to the Rays. Though Charlie Morton wasn’t quite the same guy we saw last week and didn’t really resemble the guy whose virtues I extolled last night, he did just enough (though some will say he wasn’t allowed to do enough) to put his club in a position to win. Morton’s quick hook from Kevin Cash aside, Houdini-esque work from a unit that’s blown 8 saves this month and a big night from Avisail Garcia were more than enough to sink the Sox, the latter of whom had chance after chance after chance to win the game but somehow just couldn’t quite come up Milhouse. I mean, if winning makes everything easier, what does losing do? You guessed it. It’s only uphill from here.
Tonight, we’ve got Rick Porcello against the entirety of the Tampa Bay pitching staff. Of the Rays’ arms used, only Emilio Pagan and Adam Kolarek went more than 1 inning last night, so the vast majority of arms in the bullpen should be available. As for Porcello, well – though I would normally say that it depends on which Rock Porcello we get, it just so happens that within the confines of his performances against the Rays this year, there’s decidedly less of a variance. In two starts this year against the Rays in 2019, Porcello’s gone 11 and two thirds innings, giving up six runs, all of them earned, on fourteen hits with 9 K’s. And you know what? I’ll take it, and here’s why: over the last seven days, Boston is batting .351 as a team. J.D. Martinez is 8 for his last 26 with two home runs and 6 RBI, Xander Bogaerts is 10 for his last 29 with two home runs and 5 RBI, and Andrew Benintendi? He’s 13 for his last 26 with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, and 9 RBI. Yikes.
So tonight, for me, the edge goes to Boston. No, I don’t believe that Porcello is going to equal the masterpiece he threw against the Twins back in June, but I don’t think he has to, not tonight, not the way the lineup has been swinging the bat of late. Look, Charlie Morton couldn’t quite keep Boston down, so is it likely that Tampa’s bullpen can succeed where Morton couldn’t over the course of 9 innings? I may be forced to eat my words, but I don’t see it. The bottom line is, if the Red Sox are going to make the playoffs, it’s the lineup, in many ways, that will have to carry this team through, and tonight, I think they’ll do just that.