Corey Kluber reacts to being sent to the bullpen
ANAHEIM - A year ago after their 50th game, the Red Sox dramatically changed their narrative ... at least for a while.
Following a home loss to the lowly Reds, dropping Alex Cora's club to 23-27, the Sox went on their most prolific tear of the 2022 season. They would win seven straight and 19 of their next 23 games.
After nearly two months of wallowing in a season of underachievement, the Red Sox finally seemed to find themselves.
Following Game No. 50 this time around, it certainly seems this edition could use the same sort of definition.
The Red Sox are heading into their 51st game sitting at 26-24, having flown to Phoenix licking the same kind of wounds felt after that loss to the Reds. This time, the pain was inflicted courtesy a three-game sweep by the Angels, punctuated with Wednesday's 7-3 loss.
They are better than the trio of games that saw the Red Sox get outscored 13-4. At least that was certainly the reminder echoed throughout the visitors' clubhouse after the game.
"Part of 162," Cora said. "We’ve just got to be ready for Friday. We’ll make adjustments and we’re going to be ready."
"I think we do some things really well as a club. Obviously, we’re an aggressive group. We hit the fastball pretty well. I think teams have started to mix and match a little bit, the last few games specifically," explained Red Sox hitting coach Pete Fatse. "Just the regular ebb and flow of the season, things we are aware of and things we are game planning for."
It is convenient to simply say the talent is there, a few adjustments need to be made and better times are ahead.
This is a roster, after all, Cora suggested was better positioned for success than even the one landing two wins away from the 2021 World Series. There are (and will be), in fact, too many good players and not enough roster spots. Hence, Corey Kluber going to the bullpen, and the prospective roster crunches coming with the return of Christian Arroyo, Yu Chang, Garrett Whitlock, Adam Duvall, and, eventually, Trevor Story.
"When you have good players stuff like this is going to happen," said Cora before Wednesday's loss when addressing the move of Kluber to the bullpen. "The roster is a lot better than laster year. It's a lot better than '21. You might say position-player-wise it's a lot better than '19 as far as a lot of position players. It's part of it."
Makes sense, right? Until it doesn't.
That was the reminder found throughout this latest loss.
James Paxton's momentum since entering into the rotation was ground to a halt thanks to a three-inning outing that saw the lefty surrender five runs while not getting a single miss on any of his fastballs.
The recent foundation for the grind-it-out batting order - Jarren Duran, Alex Verdugo, Justin Turner, and Rafael Devers - have all experienced some of their biggest 2023 bumps in the road.
During this four-game losing streak, Duran, Turner and Verdugo have gone a combined 0-for-37, with Duran striking out in eight of his 15 at-bats. Devers went 2-for-15, still not having drawn a walk since May 9.
"They're attacking him a certain way," said Cora of Duran. "He's not hitting the ball hard, but he's not out of control. ... You've got to stay disciplined, swing at the right pitches. He's not going to hit .430. He has a .380 on-base percentage with a .300 batting average. So, you know, it's part of the season. He's going to be OK."
The good-time feeling of that recent eight-game win streak hasn't totally worn off. The same can be said about all the optimism regarding what might await with a starting rotation - Chris Sale, Brayan Bello, Tanner Houck and Whitlock - oozing potential. And how about all those proven players ready to burst off the injured list?
All sounds great. Sounds. As the Red Sox head in to play a 29-21 Diamondbacks team, they need something better than murmurs.
What they could use is yet another Game 51 launching pad.