Tomase: Winning streak was fun, but Sox must beware of trouble spots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The streak is over, and it was a hell of a thing while it lasted. Now comes the hard part: making it sustainable.
The Red Sox have given us so much to like over the last 10 days that it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. After an 0-3 start vs. the woeful Orioles that had some knee-jerk types declaring them "sneaky gross," the Red Sox started an annihilation tour that swept through the Rays and Orioles before nearly victimizing the Twins on Thursday.
Out-hit and outplayed all afternoon, the Red Sox still managed to pull even in the eighth inning on Alex Verdugo's bases-loaded double to conclude an epic 10-pitch at-bat, but it wasn't meant to be, and reliever Adam Ottavino got walked off in the bottom of the ninth of Minnesota's 4-3 victory.
Still, after taking three of four from a very good Twins team, the Red Sox return to Boston for a weekend series with the White Sox feeling good about themselves and their place atop the AL East.
"We just beat the American League Central champions three out of four, so I mean we've been playing good baseball," said manager Alex Cora. "We were down 3-0, put up good at-bats, tied the game. We didn't play great overall, but we did everything possible to win the game and that's what we take out of this one."
As well as the Red Sox have played, they are not a dominant team. They must do all of the little things to give themselves a chance, and the start to the season has proven it. Defensive miscues cost them two games vs. Baltimore, and then clutch hitting, opportunistic small ball, and steady defense keyed the winning streak.
That's not an accident. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom targeted players with winning pedigrees this winter, adding World Series champs Kiké Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez, as well as battle-tested reliever Adam Ottavino. Even outfielder Hunter Renfroe is coming off a World Series appearance with the Rays.
Adding them to a core of holdovers from the 2018 title like Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Matt Barnes gave the Red Sox a stable base of veterans who know what it takes.
"It's going to take all the way to that ninth inning and that last out," Verdugo said. "You can't go too easy on us. We're a team that's resilient and we're going to fight and I feel like we might start off a little slow, but we know that fourth, fifth, sixth inning comes that we all start locking it in even extra."
There's a fine line between being able to come back and just expecting it to happen. Vegas put Boston's over/under at only 80.5 wins, and even if the club's internal projections were better than that, the front office recognized that a LOT would need to go right to reach 90 wins and a shot at the playoffs.
The Red Sox need to pitch, which they've done tremendously well. Since the Orioles lit up Richards in the third game of the season, Red Sox starters have thrown at least five innings in 10 straight starts and only allowed four runs once. Their 3.06 ERA over that span illustrates how they've kept the Red Sox in every game.
"We push each other," Richards said. "This is a unique group."
If there's a drawback to their performance, it's that they've only reached the sixth inning twice in the last 10 games, meaning the bullpen has been asked to record at least 12 outs on a regular basis. The expanded roster and 14th pitcher helps limit the wear and tear, but Cora will have to manage his relievers carefully if they're going to pitch that much on a nightly basis, especially considering that one reliever is coming off Tommy John (Garrett Whitlock), one is debuting after a decade in Japan (Hirokazu Sawamura), two were limited by COVID last season (Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernández), and one is 35 years old and coming off heavy usage seasons with the Rockies and Yankees (Ottavino).
That's an area to watch, but it's not the only one. Offensively, the Red Sox cooled after dominant performances vs. the Rays and Orioles. They only scored in seven innings over four games against the Twins, and their offense downgrades when Martinez and Devers are staying in the ballpark.
The Red Sox won playing small for the most part in Minnesota, and while that's the mark of a good team, it also leaves little margin for error. They've already won two games in extra innings and two others that they trailed in the fifth. A 9-1 stretch can very quickly become more of a pedestrian 5-5 one if some of those close games go against them, as happened on Thursday.
The greater point is that they can't simply show up and win. They're good, maybe even really good, but not great. They'll need to stay humble and hungry to keep this thing rolling.