Beginning with Friday's game, which ended with a 1-0 loss for the Boston Red Sox, the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves locked in an epic three-game struggle to prove which team is not the worst in the American League East. Right now, the Rays are currently the occupants of the cellar of the division, but if the next two clashes between the two teams end in identical fashion, then they can leave their basement abode and move up a level in the race for the pennant for which they have already fallen well behind. On the other hand, if the Red Sox continue their losing ways - currently, the team is on an eight-game losing streak - then they will be the ones to lay claim to being the most mediocre club in the division.
Despite the loss, though, all was not completely abysmal for the Red Sox on Friday as they received stellar production on the pitching front, at least from starting pitcher John Lackey and in an incredibly short appearance, reliever Junichi Tazawa. Lackey and Tazawa combined to hold the Rays scoreless for the first 7.3 innings, with Lackey accounting for 7.0 of those innings, and only gave up five hits over that span.
Then Andrew Miller replaced Tazawa after Tazawa faced his only batter of the evening and the unfortunate circumstances that were to come were not foreshadowed by how Miller pitched to his first two batters. To ensure that the game would continue on level terms heading into the eighth inning, Miller set down Brandon Guyer and Wil Myers in succession, needing only four pitches to record the two outs in a fantastic display of efficient pitching.
Miller's efficiency did not extend far enough into the ninth inning for the Red Sox's liking, however. After he induced James Loney to fly out after just two pitches, he walked the next batter he faced, Desmond Jennings, on six pitches. With that sign of trouble, Miller got the quick hook and was replaced with reliever Burke Badenhop, who has had great success this season with preventing inherited runners from scoring.
Unluckily, that talent left Badenhop completely. Inauspiciously, Desmond Jennings stole second base on Badenhop and catching A.J. Pierzynski to put himself in scoring position with just one out; Jennings's stolen base came despite four pickoff attempts and one pitch out. Even though the Red Sox knew Jennings was going to attempt to use his speed to steal second base, they still could not stop him.
Of course, Jennings simply standing on second base was not nearly as threatening as it seemed since even after the stolen base, the Rays only had a run expectancy of 0.63 runs so Badenhop was not necessarily in trouble after the stolen base. That is, until he allowed pinch hitter Cole Figueroa to line a double off him and drive in Jennings for the winning Rays run, ending the contest.
Still, even with Badenhop's disastrous appearance and a Red Sox pitcher being on the mound when the game was finally lost, the pitchers were in no way responsible for the defeat. In fact, they were the only thing keeping the Red Sox in the game as evidenced by their overall win probability added of .142, which includes Badenhop's -0.375 win probability added.
For a scapegoat, look no further than the once-again anemic Red Sox offense, who basically wasted their 36 plate appearances as they scuffled and muddled their way to a ghastly hitting line of .156 BA/.250 OBP/.188 SLG/.198 wOBA and an unsightly -3.94 RE24. So much of the hitters' performance on Friday was irredeemably bad and they were rewarded for their awful hitting with a win probability added of -.642, taking on the lion's share of the credit for the Red Sox defeat. Not even the line-up shake-up could get the offense going on Friday.
Certainly the Red Sox will eventually win a game again, but if they continue to hit so pitifully, then it is hard to imagine when exactly that victory will arrive.