This Red Sox bullpen isn’t cutting it. Will Dave Dombrowski fix it?
LONDON — Red Sox manager Alex Cora took a seat in the makeshift interview room just a few steps off the field at London Stadium on Sunday to take questions about how the Yankees had again embarrassed his team.
As he spoke, Cora’s eyes were diverted several times by a television on the wall to his left that was showing highlights of the 12-8 Yankees victory with the sound turned up.
A reporter out on the field was grinning as he recounted the Yankees taking two games from the Sox in front of huge crowds and knocking them further down the standings.
Somebody from Major League Baseball or the Red Sox should have turned the television off but skipped that part of their job.
After the second question, Cora finally had enough.
“Can you turn that down please?” he asked.
Even then, it took another 90 seconds before the television was finally muted. Plenty of other mangers — Terry Francona in his Red Sox years for sure — would have gotten up and left.
But Cora stayed because he had a lot to say.
The Red Sox have scored 28 runs in their last three games and lost each time, their pitching staff unable to stop the White Sox last Wednesday then the Yankees for two days here.
Cora attributed it to the Sox not being as adept as the Yankees in recognizing the small details within a game that can make a difference. That is a favorite theme of his and there’s undoubtedly some truth to it.
But it’s a lot more than that. It’s personnel.
The Sox have lost three straight and five of seven, their season collapsing with the All-Star break six games away. They allowed 37 runs on 44 hits over the last three games with the bullpen responsible for 24 of those runs.
Yes, the London Series was an offensive explosion as the teams combined for 50 runs in two games. But the Sox have not pitched well out of the bullpen all season and now it’s acute.
Nothing will break apart a team more quickly than the bullpen giving away leads and it has happened seven times after the sixth inning already this season. That’s one more than all of last year.
The Sox led, 4-0, on Sunday and had a 4-2 lead after Eduardo Rodriguez pitched a credible 5⅓ innings. But then Marcus Walden allowed four runs and Matt Barnes three.
The Sox scored four times in the eighth inning and had the tying run at the plate in Rafael Devers. He grounded to first and slammed his helmet on the turf.
The Sox scored 21 times in two days against the Yankees and lost both games. That’s a tough way to play.
“To put up those runs in general is hard to do,” Xander Bogaerts said. “I think it’s two of the best games we had offensively this year, especially back to back.
“To not win, I think that’s really rough.”
The Sox players don’t blame Walden, Barnes, or any of their other worn-down relievers. They do wonder why the bullpen was left short before the season.
For a team that started the season with high aspirations, their clubhouse has been loaded with fringe big leaguers tasked with getting big outs.
Meanwhile, when the Yankees needed to secure the game in the late innings on Sunday, they turned to Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino, two free agents the Red Sox didn’t make offers to last winter.
No player would voice such sentiment on the record, but the Sox are looking to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to improve the bullpen and not at the July 31 trade deadline. It needs to be sooner.
The Sox are third in the American League in runs per game. That effort is being wasted while they run a bullpen tryout camp.
“It’s not a lack of effort. I think it’s lack of execution. It’s disappointing,” Cora said, speaking generally about the team. “I know where we’re at right now. We have a long ways to go. We have a long ways to go.”
He emphasized those seven words for a reason. The Sox have 78 games remaining, 48 percent of their season.
That may not be enough to catch the Yankees, who now lead the Sox by 11 games. The Yankees have won six of seven against the Sox this season, outscoring them by 20 runs. They’re clearly a better team.
But the Sox can still enter the playoffs via a wild card.
“We know we can be better. We know we have a great team. But we need to stop talking about it and we need to start doing it,” Cora said.
The Red Sox flew to Toronto after the game and have a day off on Monday before starting a three-game series against the two opponents, the Blue Jays and jet lag
“It’s not going to be an off day for me,” Cora said. “There’s going to be a lot of people working on this and try to figure out what’s going on.”