PHOENIX — There is nothing necessarily bad about going 4-5 on a West Coast road trip. Plenty of better Red Sox teams have come back battered and bruised from this arduous annual segment on the schedule.
But there is little room for error in the American League East this season. As the Sox were getting started against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Sunday afternoon, the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Yankees were finishing off victories.
A 4-2 loss against Torey Lovullo and Co. left the Sox 10 games out of first in the division, two games worse than they were before the trip and a half-game out of last. Run in place in the American League East this season and you’re falling behind.
“It wasn’t bad,” manager Alex Cora said. “Of course we wanted to go 5-4, or win every series. We won two.”
The third was a three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels in Anaheim.
At 28-25, the season is nearly a third over. The Sox have, for the most part, outperformed modest expectations coming out of spring training. The hope is to hang in there, then make a run for a playoff berth once Adam Duvall and Trevor Story return.
Duvall, who starts a rehab assignment Tuesday, isn’t eligible to return until June 9. Story isn’t expected back until some point in July. He has not yet progressed to playing in games.
“They have a good team,” Lovullo said. “The pitching is probably better than what was expected and they’re dangerous offensively. They’ve done a good job of getting the ball to [Kenley] Jansen when they have a lead.”
The Sox never had that chance Sunday. After Tanner Houck allowed four runs in the first two innings, they were left chasing and never quite caught up. Alex Verdugo singled in a run with two outs in the seventh inning, but Rafael Devers struck out swinging on the sixth pitch from Andrew Chafin.
Devers, who came into the game hitting .327 with runners in scoring position, slammed his helmet on the dirt.
“We had the bases loaded with the big boy and it just didn’t happen,” Cora said.
Justin Turner homered leading off the eighth, but the Sox stranded two runners when pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia’s drive to left was caught on the warning track. Based on the initial screams followed by a collective groan, at least half of the crowd of 26,051 was rooting for the Sox.
Verdugo, who was 5 for 12 over the weekend playing in his home state, singled again in the ninth. But former Yankees setup man Miguel Castro retired Devers on a groundout and struck out Turner.
The Sox were 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position the last three innings. That was the difference between a winning road trip and a losing road trip.
“We should have won this trip,” said Jarren Duran, who was 3 for 31 over the three series, striking out 15 times. “It wasn’t bad, but it could have been better.”
An eight-game streak earlier this month sparked hopes that this season would be more than a flirtation with .500. The Sox are 7-11 since, losing whatever momentum was gained.
The Sox are off Monday. Cora and several of the players will be at TD Garden for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cincinnati Reds arrive at Fenway Park for three games starting on Tuesday night, followed by a four-game series against first-place Tampa Bay, who swept four games from the Sox in April. A 4-3 homestand would surely be deemed as not bad, but playing in October will require more than that.
Not bad isn’t good enough.