Boston Red Sox unraveling behind sloppy defense

BOSTON, MA - MAY 7: Bobby Dalbec #29 of the Boston Red Sox stands at first base as he tosses a baseball during the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on May 7, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The White Sox won 3-1 in ten innings. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 7: Bobby Dalbec #29 of the Boston Red Sox stands at first base as he tosses a baseball during the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on May 7, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The White Sox won 3-1 in ten innings. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox need to work on their defense

Every team is going to hit a slump at some point. Even the best lineups can be shut down by great pitching. A quality pitch can still be hammered by great hitters. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opponent. When the wounds are self-inflicted, that’s when frustration boils over. This is the point that the Boston Red Sox are reaching as costly mistakes pile up.

The Red Sox have lost three straight and seven of their last nine. Sloppy play has spoiled many of those losses.

Boston wasn’t charged with an error in their latest loss on Wednesday but they weren’t immune to poor decisions. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Yandy Diaz hit a ground ball through the infield for a single that rolled out to Rob Refsnyder in right field. Refsnyder hesitated with uncertainty before short-hopping a throw to the cutoff man, allowing Josh Lowe to score all the way from first to extend Tampa’s lead to three.

Maybe that play didn’t cost the Red Sox the game considering they were already trailing and failed to score again. The additional insurance run made the challenge of coming back that much harder against a strong Rays bullpen though. Boston would have brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning if it were only a two-run game, creating more pressure on the Rays pitching staff.

The defense spoiled Chris Sale’s season debut in the previous game. The lefty delivered five shutout innings only for the bullpen to immediately blow the lead. Matt Strahm was stung by a comebacker, then made an ill-advised throw to first base. Franchy Cordero made an awful throw to the plate. Two errors on the same play led to a pair of runs for the Rays, giving them a lead they wouldn’t give back.

The series opener on Monday might seem like it was a blowout but Boston trailed by only two entering the bottom of the eighth inning. A Bobby Dalbec error allowed the first batter of the inning to reach. The Red Sox weren’t able to turn a double play on a weak grounder to first by the next batter. Tampa Bay would end up piling on three runs in the inning to open up a five-run lead, but considering the first of those runs scored on a sacrifice fly that would have been the third out if it weren’t for the costly error, they were fortunate to score any runs in that inning.

Some mistakes come from a lack of focus, while others are a failure to execute basic fundamentals. Some are flat out embarrassing, such as when Christian Arroyo lost a ball in the lights at Fenway Park against the Yankees last weekend, allowing a routine fly ball to drop behind him.

Alex Cora preaches the importance of quality defense and the manager has been frustrated by the mounting mistakes, according to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo.

"“We’re not playing good baseball right now,” Cora said. “It’s a lot of mistakes. It’s costing us games. We need to start playing better baseball if we want to be the team we envisioned in spring training.”"

We expected the left side of the infield defense to be a problem. That’s what happens when you commit to building around two superstars who are subpar defensively. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have been surprisingly solid though.

Bogaerts has produced two defensive runs saved this season, putting him on pace for the first season of his career that he hasn’t had a negative number in that metric. He’s also produced 1 Outs Above Average, per Baseball Savant.

Devers is a bit below average with -2 DRS but that’s an improvement considering he’s typically near the bottom of the league in that category. He’s near the middle of the pack with -1 OAA. He’s still among the league leaders at his position with 11 errors but his .954 fielding percentage would be the best of his career.

The two superstars haven’t been the problem but Boston still has holes defensively.

Dalbec is tied for last at his position with -4 DRS, which is significantly worse when you consider he’s become a platoon player. Cordero hasn’t been any better with -2 DRS in fewer games.

Jarren Duran brings plenty of excitement but his blazing speed hasn’t been enough to salvage his defensive play in center field. He’s piled up a staggering -5 DRS in only 24 games in the outfield. Arroyo provides value with his versatility in the infield but he’s been a disaster when tasked with an outfield assignment, producing -5 DRS in only 17 outfield appearances.

The Red Sox are in danger of being swept in Tampa Bay, which would potentially drop them out of a Wild Card spot. It’s fitting that their losses have been marred by defensive lapses against a Rays team that has a reputation for playing hard and not beating themselves with sloppy mistakes. You can’t give the Rays extra outs because you can’t expect them to return the favor. The Red Sox aren’t winning this series but perhaps they can learn some lessons from watching the Rays.

Boston desperately needs to tighten up their defense and start executing consistently before they let their playoff hopes slip away.

Next. Chris Sale isn't broken anymore. dark