Give the Red Sox some credit: seven straight losses in mid-July after sneaking back into contention is an emphatic way to let Ben Cherington and co. know it’s time to build for 2016.
Top Play (WPA): The Astros did all of their damage with the long ball, as they took Red Sox starter Joe Kelly deep three times. Preston Tucker, a former seventh-round draft pick out of Florida with a sweet lefty swing, launched a towering two-run homer in the fifth (+.124), which put Houston up 4-0. Tucker also homered in the first inning to deep left-center field (+.106), and somewhere in between, Evan Gattis connected with a line-drive shot over the short porch in left (+.110). The Astros lead the majors in home runs, and Kelly was not the man to slow them down.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Red Sox had chances in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, with multiple runners on base and less than two outs. In the fifth, Mike Napoli chopped into a slow-developing double play that ended a first and second, one out rally (-.112). In the sixth, Hanley Ramirez chased a low-and-away slider to strikeout with runners on second and third and one out (-.105). And in the seventh, with runners at first and second with no outs, Blake Swihart bunted a sacrifice attempt back to the pitcher, who easily nabbed the lead runner, Shane Victorino, at third base (-.088).
Key Moment: Some games don’t really have key moments, at least not ones that are easily discernible. They just sort of happen, a series of discrete events all pointing, at least retrospectively, toward the eventual winner. This may have been one of those games. That said, if I gotta pick (and I do!), Tucker’s second home run probably works here. It wasn’t the worst pitch by Kelly — ahh, who am I kidding, it was a pretty bad pitch, a 93 mile-per-hour 1-0 fastball that caught too much plate, ending up in one of Tucker’s apparent wheelhouses. But in Kelly’s defense, sometimes hitters miss those pitches, fouling them back or swinging right through them or popping them straight up. Tucker didn’t, and when the ball finally landed, the Astros had a 4-0 lead.
Trend to Watch: Xander Bogaerts. If you’re feeling down about this once promising season that’s gone off the tracks, just watch Bogaerts. He didn’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary last night — he went the opposite way for an RBI hit and he made a couple of solid defensive plays, both things that are becoming the norm with Bogaerts. He still has flaws in his game, like his lack of home run power and his walk rate, but once you realize that he doesn’t turn 23 until October, that he’s hitting .311 and playing solid defense at short, and that both his power and patience should improve with age, you may find yourself starting to get really excited. It can help distract you from all the losing.
Coming Next: Unfortunately, another game with the Astros. The Red Sox look to avoid the three-game series sweep in Houston, as Wade Miley takes on Lance McCullers. Miley’s been good of late, but McCullers, a 21-year-old who owns a 2.55 FIP over his first 11 major-league starts, has quickly emerged as the Astros’ ace. On Friday night the Red Sox kick-off a 10-game home stand against the Tigers, a team still trying to judge whether they’ll be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
Photo by Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images