If one sport may encapsulate the 2023 Red Sox, it was Tuesday evening’s sequence opener towards the Tampa Bay Rays.
Particularly, Tanner Houck and Zach Eflin, whose lopsided begins set a 9-7 Rays victory in movement.
Last offseason, the Red Sox and Rays made equivalent three-year, $40 million provides to Eflin, a free agent coming off a pennant season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Eflin, a Florida native, mentioned it was a tough determination, however selected to play in his residence state.
On the mound at Fenway for the penultimate residence sport of the season, he confirmed the Red Sox precisely how totally different this season may’ve been, and what the group must prioritize this offseason with a view to flip the web page subsequent yr.
Coming into his thirty first begin of the yr, Eflin’s 3.44 ERA, 30 begins, 172.2 innings, and 182 strikeouts would’ve led the Red Sox rotation, and by a snug margin in most metrics. On Tuesday evening, he added 5 innings to his season complete, and held the Red Sox to a few earned runs on 5 hits, struck out 4, and didn’t situation a stroll.
Almost each ball the Red Sox hit discovered a Rays glove, and so they erased the baserunners they managed to placed on. Eflin held them scoreless by way of 4, with solely two hits to their identify; solely twice this yr had a Red Sox starter taken a scoreless sport that deep with out permitting extra hits.
In the underside of the fifth, Eflin allowed back-to-back singles to Wilyer Abreu and Bobby Dalbec, then gave up a three-run homer to Enmanuel Valdez, placing Boston on the board and reducing the Rays’ result in 4. Far from rattled, the visiting starter retired the following three batters, ending his evening with a strikeout of Rafael Devers.
Meanwhile, Houck started the evening by hitting Rays leadoff man Jonathan Aranda. Moments later, he turned the primary Red Sox pitcher since Clay Buchholz in 2016 to permit the primary six batters of the sport to achieve.
Houck ended up dealing with all 9 Rays batters within the high of the primary, permitting three runs, two earned, on 4 hits earlier than getting out of the inning. By the time he walked off the mound after his third and remaining body, he’d had been charged with seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits, together with a house run.
“Fastball command was off, the slider wasn’t great, 0-2 breaking ball right away hit-by-pitch,” supervisor Alex Cora mentioned. “A lot of pitches in the middle of the zone.”
Houck summed it up extra succinctly. “Terrible,” he mentioned solemnly.
“Slider wasn’t very good, kept leaving it up (in the zone), and that’s one of my main two pitches. Didn’t execute it as well as I should’ve,” the 27-year-old right-hander mentioned.
“Like I said, terrible,” he mentioned. “Lot of learning lessons in it, and that’s what failure does … I got one more after this, come back, bounce back, and finish the year on a high note. Flush this one today, and come back tomorrow.”
While Houck’s struggles reached new extremes on Tuesday evening, Eflin’s efficiency was much more painful in that it highlighted precisely what the Red Sox have been sorely lacking all season. It was the Rays righty’s twenty fifth begin of a minimum of 5 innings with a most of three runs allowed this season, and the twelfth wherein he’d achieved the aforementioned with out issuing a stroll. The Red Sox rotation mixed has 75 and 14 such contests, respectively.
The the rest of the competition was a unique type of reminder that with a stronger beginning rotation, this Red Sox workforce may’ve been a lot greater than they’ve been. Zack Kelly took over for Houck and pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning in his first look since getting injured in an early April sport and present process elbow surgical procedure. It turned out to be the primary of 4 consecutive 1-2-3 innings by the Boston bullpen, who suffocated their visitors, giving the lineup time to battle again.
The Red Sox pulled inside one because of a two-run double by Wilyer Abreu within the sixth and Justin Turner’s RBI single within the seventh, however Chris Murphy and Josh Winckowski gave the Rays two extra within the high of the eighth. Around the identical time, Dave Dombrowski’s Philadelphia Phillies punched their ticket to the playoffs for the second yr in a row.
Trailing 9-7 within the backside of the ninth, the Red Sox had been unable to finish the comeback. Devers, Turner, and Masataka Yoshida struck out swinging to finish the workforce’s penultimate residence sport. With a greater begin, seven runs and a mostly-effective bullpen may’ve gotten the job achieved.
If there are three takeaways from this microcosm of the 2023 Red Sox they’re as follows:
First, that buying and selling Christian Vázquez, whereas painful, has paid dividends. The Red Sox obtained then-prospects Abreu and Valdez in return for the longest-tenured member of their group, and so they mixed for the primary 5 runs batted in. Valdez’s fourth RBI within the eighth set a brand new career-high.
“Bittersweet because of the situation,” Cora mentioned, “but at the end, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I think Chaim (Bloom) did an outstanding job getting those two players.”
Both rookies plan to play Winter Ball this offseason, and their supervisor envisions Valdez staying at second base transferring ahead.
Secondly, age is only a quantity: 35-year-old Duvall bought on base with a pinch-hit double off the Green Monster and scored to place his workforce inside one; he was 38-year-old Turner’s 96th RBI, including on to what’s already a career-high season complete. Only David Ortiz (2014-16) and Bob Johnson (1944) have plated extra runs at his age or older.
Finally, and maybe most significantly, the Red Sox can not skimp on beginning pitching this winter.