Through 29 games played this season, the 2017 Red Sox are sitting at 15-14 and in 3rd place in the cutthroat AL East, behind the Yankees and Orioles. The season is long, and we are far from the point of panicking, but it’s safe to say this is not the Red Sox team we were expecting this season.
Leading the American League in errors with 26, there have been times this season where the Red Sox have looked lost on the field. As I’ve talked about before, third base has become a black hole for the Sox, with 12 of those errors coming from a hobbled together combination of Pablo Sandoval, Marco Hernandez, Josh Rutledge, and Brock Holt. The offense is struggling to hit for power, tied for last in the MLB with only 19 home runs. The Yankees have 18 home runs just from players named Aaron (Judge and Hicks).
Like I said, I’m not panicking yet. There are plenty of good things going on for the Sox right now as well as the bad. Lead by Chris Freakin’ Sale, our combined pitching has the 3rd lowest collective ERA in the league (3.51). The power will return to the lineup, and we’re seeing it start with Hanley, Pedroia, and Benintendi hitting 5 in the last 5 games. Plus it’s only the first week of May. The season is young. Hopefully come July we’ll be looking back on this slow start and wondering why we were ever concerned.
That all being said, there have been some truly awful, heart breaking losses for the Sox this season. I’m not talking about getting blown out 12-5 (Rays), 10-5 (Orioles), or even 8-3 (Orioles again). So far this season there have been 3 absolutely awful losses; when the Red Sox looked like they were cruising or mounting a comeback and still managed to wrench defeat from the jaws of victory.
When talking about these losses I’ll be using information and graphs from Baseball-Reference.com and using their statistics wWPA and wWE. wWPA stands for Winning Team Probability Added/Subtracted, aka the change in probability of the “eventual winner winning the game from the start of this play to the end of the play”. wWE stands for Winning Team Win Expectancy, or the probability of the “eventual winner winning the game at the end of this play”.
So in layman's terms, wWE is the total odds of winning the game after a specific play, and wWPA is the amount that the winning team’s win probability changed because of a specific play.
First up is April 7th’s 5-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Looking at the graph you can see that for most of this game the Sox had almost no chance of victory. Behind former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, the Tigers went into the 8th inning up 4-0 on the Red Sox with a 97% chance of winning. If the Red Sox had gone quietly for the rest of the game, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. Even the most die hard fan can accept losing a game where the opposing team has a 98% chance to win.
But, as you can see, that’s not what happened. Behind the bats of Chris Young, Jackie Bradley Jr., and most significantly Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox clawed their way back up to a game high 76% win expectancy. That Sandoval 3RBI HR was one of the most pivotal hits for the Red Sox all season, with a wWPA of -57%, that one swing dropped the wWE for the Tiger’s down to 29%.
The highs of being a Sox fan can be high, but the lows are oh so low. The bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and a combination of Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, and Joe Kelly (who WALKED in the eventual game winning run) dropped that 76% win expectancy all the way down to 12% by the end of that very inning. There are few words to properly how it felt watching that inning unfold. Yeah there are 162 games in a season, but that one hurt and wasn’t so easy to shake off.
Next up comes the April 29th 7-4 loss against the reigning World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. This was a highly anticipated series, seeing the return of former Red Sox team favorites Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Koji Uehara, was touted as a early season preview of what the World Series could look like this season.
Fenway was rocking early as the Red Sox came out cruising and beat up their former teammate Lackey for an early 3-0 lead in the 3rd. With a Hanley Ramirez home run, the Red Sox had a 81% win expectancy, and it looked like they might be on their way to a second win against the Cubs.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. The next inning, Rizzo took Stephen Wright deep for 2 runs, and even with a solo home run from Andrew Benintendi in the 5th, the Red Sox never made it past that 73% mark again.
The pitching couldn’t shut down the Cub’s offense, giving up run after run and watching that graph approach 100% for Chicago. This time the Sox couldn’t get anything else going late and once they lost their lead, they barely made any impact towards Chicago’s win probability. The 4 defensive errors the Sox committed didn’t make make this loss any more bearable. They would come back to win the series with a victory the next evening, but this was still one of the most frustrating games to watch all season.
And finally, we get to Friday night’s absolutely awful punch in the gut walk off 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
From the get go, this game was a rough one. After giving up 2 early runs to the Twins, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched another quality game, finishing with 6+ IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, but again the Red Sox struggled on offense, with a Benintendi solo shot in the third being the only offense for 8 innings.
Going into the 9th, the Sox had a 6% chance to win, and if the game had ended there, it would have been easy to accept. We were losing for the whole game. You win some you lose some. Easy enough to move on and come back again tomorrow.
BUT ONCE AGAIN THAT WAS NOT THE CASE. Top of the 9th, behind a few misplayed ground balls by the Twins infielders and a Jackie Bradley sacrifice, Chris Young (the best 4th infielder in baseball) knocked a 2 RBI single to left field. That hit had a -27% wWPA and brought the Red Sox and Twins to an even 50% wWE.
Things were looking great for the Sox to pull of another come from behind win. Instead, out comes Matty Barnes and with 2 outs he left the ball in the wrong spot and on a 1-2 count Joe Mauer launched a monster solo shot deep to left center field, and the Twins walked off while the Red Sox and their fans had to stomach the third devastating loss of the season.
That Mauer mash had a wWPA of 46% and was only his 2nd home run of the season. I might be in the minority here, but I would have much rather them not start the comeback and just lose outright 3-1. In that scenario we’re not stewing over why Matt Barnes was pitching instead of Kimbrel, who had began to warm at the same time as Barnes in the top of the 9th.
These tough losses are always a part of being a baseball fan. As a Red Sox fan, sometimes you can’t help but feel like your team goes through more of them then anyone else. Especially with such a long and storied history of absolutely heartbreaking loses. In the grand scheme of things, we probably won’t be talking about any of these losses come September, but with 3 such loses so early in the year it’s hard to just shake them off and look towards the future. The arrow is still pointing upward, but at this rate, how much longer until it’s not?