CHICAGO — There’s been some turbulence in the Windy City.
The Red Sox have been solid on defense for much of this season, sixth in defensive runs saved entering Saturday’s game. Yet mishaps plagued them in a 3-1 loss to the Cubs, their second defeat in as many days at Wrigley Field.
Patrick Wisdom hit a slow roller toward Rafael Devers at third base to begin the second inning for Chicago. Devers fielded the ball cleanly on the run, but delivered an errant throw that skipped by Franchy Cordero at first, allowing Wisdom to advance to second. Nico Hoerner attempted a sacrifice bunt toward the left side; Sox starter Josh Winckowski also fielded it cleanly, yet, he too made an errant throw that allowed Wisdom to score and Hoerner to reach second.
A ground out and a sacrifice fly put the Red Sox in a 2-0 hole from which they’d never escape.
“You have to play good defense behind [Winckowski],” said manager Alex Cora, who then added that Winckowski played a part in the defensive shortcomings, too. “The [Cubs] did a good job of moving the guy over, hitting the ball in the air to get runs, and that was it.”
Certainly, it was.
The Sox lineup was no match for Chicago’s Mark Leiter Jr., who came in when a sore lower back forced starter Alec Mills out after seven pitches, the last a one-out Devers double in the first. Leiter held them to three hits in 5⅓ innings, Boston only cutting the deficit to 2-1 on a Devers double play after Jackie Bradley Jr. (double) and Jarren Duran (single) led off the sixth inning with hits.
The offense, which Cora said he felt was stuck following Friday’s loss, was stale again on Saturday. The Sox have scored just two runs in their last 16 innings.
“We hit some balls hard,” Cora said. “It just didn’t happen for us.”
Chicago added an insurance run in the eighth against Tanner Houck. Willson Contreras hit a one-out single, and the defensive woes continued when pinch runner Nelson Velazquez tried to steal second. Kevin Plawecki delivered an on-target throw, on time to Xander Bogaerts, but Bogaerts dropped it.
After the steal, Velazquez went to third on a two-out wild pitch, and scored on a Wisdom RBI single past Devers.
It proved critical when Duran led off the Sox ninth with a double off Rhode Islander David Robertson, then immediately stole third. Yet the offense reverted back to its funk. Robertson fanned both Devers and J.D. Martinez looking with cutters at the knees, and after Bogaerts worked a seven-pitch walk, Alex Verdugo’s drive deep to center was corralled in front of the warning track.
It spoiled what turned into another quality outing from Winckowski. The righthander was booked for just one earned run in six innings, striking out six. Winckowski has a 3.12 ERA.
“I felt really good,” Winckowski said. “I think this is probably the best my location has felt since being up here.”
What wasn’t the best, according to Winckowski, was the atmosphere at Wrigley, a historical ballpark he called “a little underwhelming.”
“Fenway has a presence to it. I really didn’t get that here, to be honest,” he said. “I said to my mom last night, ‘This place is very stock standard.’ ”
It was a bold remark. One that landed just as flat as the Red Sox’ play during this series.
The Sox (43-35) are 4-4 on this road trip despite starting it with a sweep in Cleveland. They have lost the last four of five contests, and allowed the Cubs (32-46) just their second four-game winning streak this season.
“It’s part of baseball. We’ve been here before. We put ourselves in the situation that we’re in and it’s part of it,” Cora said. “We got to be ready to come here tomorrow and split the road trip. It’s going to be a full week of games at home and we have to be ready.”