December 5, 2022

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Groundhog Day: How do the Red Sox flip the script?

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BOSTON — For the Red Sox, perhaps the worst part of Saturday’s 3-1, 10-inning loss to the White Sox was how annoyingly familiar it all felt.

The starting pitcher (this time Nick Pivetta) turned in a performance (six shutout innings, eight strikeouts) that put his team in position to win.

But the offense (1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and 10 runners left on base) again left the bullpen with only the slimmest margin for error.

And that bullpen once again couldn’t make that slim margin stand up.

The Red Sox have lost four in a row, 14 out of 20 and are 10-18 on the season and already 9 1/2 games back in a loaded American League East.

“That’s real. We’ve dug ourselves a hole,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “There’s no question we haven’t played well. Panic isn’t going to help. We have to play better. We put ourselves in this situation, but if we’re going to get out of it, we’re going to get out of it by doing those things that we know we can do well.”

Other than starting pitching, not much has gone well. Boston is 0-7 in extra innings. The bullpen is 5-for-14 in save opportunities. The Red Sox have five blown saves from the ninth inning on.

Then there is the offense. In the last three games, they’ve scored three times. Through 28 games, Boston’s OPS is 26th in the Majors. They are 28th in homers.

The recipe for most of the losses has been so consistent that “Groundhog Day” feels like the best way to sum it all up.

“We feel like we have the team,” said Trevor Story, who is off to a tough start with his new club. “We’re just not performing right now. Obviously each guy, we’ve just got to kind of look in the mirror and figure it out, starting with me.”

The lack of a set closer makes for an unsettled feeling in times like this, and manager Alex Cora would love for someone to step up and take that role.

Hansel Robles got the ninth inning on Saturday and he started by walking Jake Burger, the No. 7 hitter in Chicago’s lineup. By the time the righty got his first out of the inning, it was a sacrifice fly that allowed the White Sox to tie the game.

Leadoff walks in the ninth inning with a one-run lead hardly ever seem to end well.

“You just said it. You can’t do that,” said Cora. “We need to be more aggressive. I think we were behind 3-1, good pitch and then the walk. Walks are going to do that, right? Especially a leadoff walk late in the game. [Robles’] stuff is that good, but we need to be more aggressive in the zone.”

If the relievers aren’t being aggressive enough, the opposite seems to be happening for the hitters, who are chasing at inopportune times.

“We have to get better offensively, that’s the bottom line,” said Cora.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Sox had a chance to end their recent frustration, at least for a day. Instead, the frustration mounted.

With runners on second and third and only one out, Bobby Dalbec quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 and then struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch.

“Big spot. Doesn’t frustrate anyone more than it frustrates me,” Dalbec said.

Up next was Story, and a walk-off hit could have done a lot to boost his morale. Instead, the right-handed hitter (.202/.287/.281, no homers) popped up the pitch.

“That’s the situation you hope you’re up in and obviously wanted a better result. Just didn’t come through right there,” said Story.

How stunning has the slow start been for Bloom, the architect of the roster?

“In this game enough, you can’t ever be too shocked by anything that goes on. This is a very humbling business,” said Bloom. “If you ever think you have it figured out, the game will immediately prove you wrong. I’m surprised, but again, especially in a month of baseball, you can see a lot of different things.

“And when you aren’t going well, it looks like it will never end. And then you can flip a switch and go on a hot streak where you feel like you’re never going to lose again. The reality is, it’s always somewhere in between.”

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