Glass half-full or glass half-empty? Halfway through the Red Sox’ 2022 season, the question represents a matter of perspective.
On one hand, the Red Sox recovered from their brutal start to reach the 81-game mark with a 45-36 record — in possession of the top wild-card seed and on track for 90 wins. On the other hand, that position reflects almost entirely on the team’s dominance outside the division (36-19 record, .655 winning percentage).
Meanwhile, the team has been flattened by the rest of the AL East (9-17), forging a .346 mark that ranks as the fourth worst by any team against its division in the big leagues. Over an entire half-season, the Sox failed to win back-to-back games in a series against an AL East team.
On Tuesday night at Fenway, the Red Sox continued their inadequate performance against their primary competitors. On a night where the Sox featured Nick Pivetta — their most consistent starter this year — the team nonetheless flailed in the face of repeated opportunities in absorbing an 8-4 loss to the Rays.
“If you look at the [record in the division] I know that’s not what we want, but it’s not like we’re getting crushed in our division,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. “We’re just not finishing games.”
That proved the case on both sides of the ball on Tuesday.
Pivetta, who’d sailed toward ace-hood over the prior two months, was capsized by the Rays in the top of the first. Yandy Díaz (3 for 4, two doubles) blasted a leadoff double high off the wall in left-center and advanced to third on a ground ball single past Xander Bogaerts, who has been encouraged by the training staff to avoid diving after requiring seven stitches in his thigh following a laceration on Sunday.
After a walk loaded the bases, Pivetta gave up a double off the wall in left-center to Kevin Kiermaier that chased home all three runners and immediately put Tampa Bay in front, 3-0.
The Sox emerged quickly from that hole. Bogaerts followed a two-out J.D. Martinez pop-up-turned-Fenway-double by unloading on a 92-mile-per-hour at the top of the zone from Rays starter Jeffrey Springs. His seventh long ball of the year ended a stretch of 25 consecutive games without a homer — Bogaerts’ longest drought since 2017 — and made it a 3-2 game.
“A really good feeling, good step forward and I can’t wait for tomorrow,” said Bogaerts.
One inning later, an off-balance Trevor Story one-handed a Springs changeup over the Monster for a game-tying solo homer. It was the second baseman’s 14th homer of the year and second in as many games.
Meanwhile, Pivetta settled, recording 14 outs in a 14-batter span from the first through fifth innings. That stretch came in spite of a brief fifth-inning misunderstanding withDíaz, who mistakenly thought that a profanity shouted by Pivetta after an up-and-in pitch had been directed at him. (It wasn’t, a fact made clear by Pivetta.)
Yet while Pivetta found his groove, the Red Sox offense proved inept in scoring opportunities, stranding a pair of runners in the third, fourth, and most painfully, the fifth inning. In the ill-fated fifth, with Springs replaced by righthanded slinger Ryan Thompson, a pair of opposite-field hits — a single by Rob Refsnyder and double by J.D. Martinez (his second of the game) — put runners on second and third with none out.
The Sox, however, could not pluck the low-hanging fruit. With the infield playing in, Bogaerts grounded to second, Christian Vázquez popped to short, and Story flailed helplessly at a Thompson slider.
“Not getting the run in, it hurts like you guys can’t even imagine,” said Bogaerts. “I’ve been doing that a lot this year. That’s not a good trait.”
He’s not alone in those struggles. The inability to capitalize continued a recent pattern for the Sox. In 39 plate appearances since June 24 with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, the team is 4 for 31 with a .129/.231/.161 line and just 12 RBI.
The Sox’ inability to score became more glaring when the Rays broke through against Pivetta in the top of the sixth — two on run-scoring outs with a man on third and fewer than two outs, and one on an infield hit with two outs. Randy Arozarena sat in the middle of it all, rocketing a hustle double to left-center that set up a sac fly and then scoring from second on an infield squibber with two outs to put the Rays up, 6-3.
Pivetta’s night concluded with two outs in the sixth — marking just the second time in 12 outings in which he failed to complete six innings. When reliever Jake Diekman gave up a walk and RBI single, the book closed on Pivetta with a season-high seven runs allowed on eight hits (four doubles) and two walks. He struck out four on a night when his ERA jumped from 3.23 to 3.68.
“If we hold [the Rays to three runs], we probably win this game, the bullpen comes into an easier situation than I led them in, so chalk this one as on me,” said Pivetta.
The Rays tacked on a run in the seventh to take an 8-3 lead against struggling Sox reliever Hansel Robles, who has permitted 11 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings over eight outings dating to early June, a performance that seemingly has imperiled his roster spot.
The Sox struck back for one run in the bottom of the seventh on a Bogaerts sac fly, but stranded runners in each of the final three innings to conclude their defeat — most notably, proving unable to cash in on a bases-loaded, two-out threat in the ninth in which Story (representing the potential tying run) popped out to end the game.
The team went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and is 14 for 81 (.173) in such situations over a current 3-5 stumble. That said, the team seemed inclined to look beyond its recent struggles in assessing where it stands at the season’s midpoint.
“The spot we’re in right now is so fun because you can feel it from the fans,” said Bogaerts. “Everyone would want to be better but we could’ve been a lot worse, especially [with] the way we’re playing. We definitely changed [the season] around. We’re in a really good spot.”