Five takeaways as Orioles sweep Red Sox at Fenway Park

Five takeaways as Orioles sweep Red Sox at Fenway Park originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Red Sox' first home series of the season started with a beautiful tribute to the late Tim Wakefield and the 2004 World Series team. It was all downhill from there.

The reigning champion Baltimore Orioles gave the Red Sox -- who entered with a 7-3 record -- a reality check. Boston was swept in the series with all three losses coming in crushing fashion.

Now 7-6 and three games behind the first-place New York Yankees, the Red Sox will look to get back on track against the Los Angeles Angels (6-6) at Fenway Park. The three-game series begins Friday night with Tanner Houck taking on Reid Detmers, who shut Boston's bats down in the club's one loss to the Angels in Anaheim last week.

Before we turn the page to Red Sox-Angels, here are five big takeaways from the series loss to Baltimore.

So much for those "vibes"

"If they give trophies for vibes, we are up there."

That's what Red Sox manager Alex Cora told WEEI just before Opening Day following another letdown offseason for the organization.

We saw what he meant while the team got off to a strong 7-3 start. After taking two out of three in Anaheim to wrap up the West Coast road trip, Cora doubled down on his comment.

“I know we make jokes about the vibe, but the vibe is real," he told reporters. "Excited about the team. We got to go out there and play. It’s fun.”

The vibes indeed were high when the wins were piling up, but the Red Sox crumbled at the first sight of adversity. Outfielder Jarren Duran dropped a routine fly ball with two outs in the fourth inning of Tuesday's home opener and the next hitter, Colton Cowser, took advantage with a two-run single to give Baltimore a 3-1 lead. The game continued to unravel from there as the O's cruised to a 7-1 win.

The clubhouse vibes couldn't have been lower following the loss. While shortstop Trevor Story tearfully addressed the news he will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, Duran ripped himself to shreds for his error that sparked Baltimore's rally.

“I just (expletive) suck, man,” Duran said. “It’s my (expletive) fault, dude. If I make that play, we get out of the inning and then none of those other (expletive) things happen."

The icing on the cake was the news -- which was announced before first pitch -- that Nick Pivetta was placed on the injured list with a right flexor strain.

Boston can ill afford to lose the right-hander as he's the one starter in the rotation capable of consistently pitching deep into games. He's been the most reliable pitcher on the staff since last June.

Defense remains a glaring issue

Duran's costly drop was far from Boston's only defensive mishap in the series. Later in the home opener, Story's replacement at shortstop, David Hamilton, had a ball go through his legs on what should have been a double play.

In Game 2, catcher Connor Wong played a large role in a disastrous seventh inning with a passed ball and a catcher interference call. Outfielder Tyler O'Neill, a two-time Gold Glover, misplayed a Cedric Mullins single during that chaotic frame allowing two runners to move into scoring position.

The series finale was a clean defensive game until the eighth inning when O's rookie Jackson Holliday reached on an error made by third baseman Pablo Reyes. Reyes started in place of Rafael Devers, who's dealing with a nagging shoulder issue. Another Hamilton misplay added to the sloppiness, and Baltimore capitalized with an Anthony Santander homer off the Pesky Pole to take a 3-2 lead that turned into a 9-4 win.

The Red Sox made five errors in the series. They've made at least one error in each game since Story's injury.

Defense was among the biggest contributors to the team's demise in 2023 and it's trending that way again in 2024.

Time to worry about Rafael Devers?

Devers hasn't looked like himself at the plate through 10 games this season. The two-time All-Star slugger is hitting just .184 with two homers.

Surely, some of those struggles can be blamed on a nagging shoulder injury. Devers missed two games in the opening series in Seattle due to the ailment and it kept him out of the finale vs. Baltimore.

“He’s battling with the shoulder,” manager Alex Cora told reporters on Thursday. “You can see it on the swings. Just give him a day. Hopefully, that’s what he needs and we’ll go from there. ...

“Let’s see how it goes. But it’s too early to be grinding,” he added. “That’s how I see it. He’s too important for us for him to be grinding with his swing and making it worse. He just felt yesterday that he needed a day so we decided to give him a day today. If he needs one, two, three (days) or if it’s an IL stint, then so be it. We have to take care of this.”

Losing Story for the year was devastating enough. If Devers is next to go down, this Red Sox club might as well pack it in and look ahead to 2025.

Bullpen starting to regress

The Red Sox' new-look bullpen shined through the first three series of the year. Their trio of offseason additions -- Isaiah Campbell, Justin Slaten, and Greg Weissert -- looked like legitimate breakout candidates who could give Boston's pitching staff a much-needed boost.

We witnessed potential regression to the mean in this group's first real test against a championship-caliber team.

Josh Winckowski was shelled by the O's in the home opener. The righty allowed three earned runs on nine hits and a walk in 2.2 innings of relief, but the game was already out of hand by that point.

Game 2 was an utter disaster for the bullpen. After five scoreless innings from starter Kutter Crawford, Campbell allowed three runs on four hits in the sixth. Chris Martin, who has been lights out since joining the Red Sox last year, let up another four runs (three earned) on two hits and a walk allowed in the seventh. Boston lost 7-5 after leading 5-1.

Slaten remained a bright spot in the series finale, tossing two scoreless innings in relief of starter Garrett Whitlock. Unfortunately, the rest of the 'pen couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. Weissert allowed a go-ahead homer to Santander in the eighth inning, Kenley Jansen walked two batters but escaped a jam in the ninth, and then the wheels came off with Campbell on the mound in the 10th.

Campbell let up six runs (five earned) in the top of the frame, including a three-run homer by Gunnar Henderson. That sealed a 9-4 Orioles victory to complete the sweep.

The Red Sox bullpen can still be a strength, but the dominance we witnessed in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim was likely an anomaly.

Starting rotation still solid, but...

Boston's rotation continued its surprisingly impressive start to the campaign. Brayan Bello wasn't exceptional in the series opener, but he allowed just one earned run in 5.1 innings. Kutter Crawford tossed five scoreless in Game 2, and Garrett Whitlock outdueled O's youngster Grayson Rodriguez in the finale.

The problem? With Nick Pivetta out, the Red Sox lack a starter who can be counted on to pitch through the sixth inning. Even when Bello, Crawford, Whitlock, and Tanner Houck are effective, they put a tremendous burden on the bullpen to finish the final four or five innings of the game. This was a major issue in this series as it was clear the bullpen was taxed.

Lucas Giolito was acquired in the offseason to help fix that problem, but he'll miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. If Pivetta ends up missing a good chunk of time, this pitching staff could fall apart in a hurry.