The Red Sox bullpen has a 7.15 ERA since the All-Star break, allowing 62 earned runs in just 78 innings.
The Sox’ pen is seemingly empty, patched together by underperformers as the team clings to postseason hopes.
Yet after Wednesday’s 8-4 loss to the Braves at Fenway Park, which concluded a two-game sweep, it’s becoming harder to take a postseason berth seriously.
The bullpen, true to form, unraveled once more.
The Sox (54-58) dropped their fourth game in a row, a loss supplied by a relief crew that yielded five earned runs in four innings.
On the heels of a Nick Pivetta outing that included six innings and three runs, the Sox went into the top of the seventh inning down 3-1.
However, Darwinzon Hernandez, who entered with a 22.24 ERA in six big-league outings this season, had the seventh inning. The Braves padded their stats against him. It began and ended with Vaughn Grissom, the Braves’ top prospect who was making his MLB debut. With one on and one out, Grissom’s first big league hit traveled 412 feet, well over the Green Monster. It put the Red Sox in a 5-1 hole.
“This is where we are right now,” manager Alex Cora said after the game. “We gotta pitch better. We have to play better.”
Just when the energy was sucked out of Fenway, Tommy Pham provided some offense in the home half of the seventh with a three-run homer off Atlanta reliever Dylan Lee, who replaced Kyle Wright following Wright’s six innings of one-run ball. It was Pham’s third-straight game with a homer, marking the first time he’s ever achieved that feat in his career.
“It was a big moment,” said Pham, who accounted for all four of the Sox’ RBIs. “It put us within one and it was just something that kind of gave us a jolt. I’m barreling the ball up a little more consistently.”
That jolt didn’t last long. The rusted wheels affixed to this bullpen continued their bumpy ride.
Dejection returned when Ryan Brasier, who has a 5.44 ERA, relinquished two runs on three hits, highlighted by an Eddie Rosario RBI double. Marcell Ozuna drove in a run on a sacrifice, putting the Sox in a three-run hole.
Reliever Kaleb Ort dished out a one-run ninth, which all but stamped the Red Sox loss.
With the exception of Pham and Pivetta, the positives from this one were scarce.
Pivetta had a 5.20 ERA in 17 starts this season against teams whose records were .500 or better coming into Wednesday’s start. When facing opponents under .500, the righthander submitted a 2.53 ERA.
The lack of parity was certainly telling. But Pivetta submitted six quality innings against this tough Braves lineup.
“I did some positive and some negative,” Pivetta said. “Overall, if you look at it on paper, it’s a quality start.”
Pivetta made it through three scoreless innings, but in the fourth, the negative that has haunted the Sox for much of the summer: the two-out walk, re-emerged.
Austin Riley led the inning off with a line-drive single to Jarren Duran in center. After Matt Olson flied out and William Contreras lined out, problems began to brew, starting with Rosario. Pivetta put Rosario in an 0-2 hole, weaponizing his curveball followed by his four-seam fastball. Rosario fouled off a heater to stay alive. Pivetta went to back-to-back curveballs in the dirt to bring the count even and then did not get a call on a 2-2 fastball that appeared to nip the outside part of the plate. Pivetta missed on an inside fastball to walk Rosario, stamping what was then the Sox’ 56th walk since July 1 with two outs (most in the majors during that span).
Then with two on and two out, Ozuna homered on a middle-in heater, making it 3-0.
“People expect me perfection out of me. In those situations. I expect perfection out of other people in those situations,” Pivetta said of the missed call to Rosario. “[But] I ended up leaving a middle-middle heater to Ozuna.”
The Sox are still in last place in the AL East. It’s their sixth loss in seven games and was the fourth time the team was swept. At the game’s end, the Sox were five games out of a wild-card spot.
“We need to focus on winning series,” Pivetta said. “I think we’ve proven that we’ve done it in the past. I think we can prove that we can do it again. But we really just need to put things in order again.”