Just like that, the pendulum of the season series between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles has swung back in the favor of the Orioles. After two straight victories by the Red Sox, the Orioles recaptured their mastery over the Red Sox by defeating them 3-2 in Thursday’s contest. Where the Red Sox went wrong during the contest was in failing to re-create the late inning heroics that garnered them a victory on Wednesday.
Other than the fact that the Red Sox were able to score enough late-inning runs to take the lead and the game from the Orioles, there were similarities between how the Red Sox played on Wednesday and then on Thursday. Starting pitcher Jon Lester, like John Lackey before him, also allowed the Orioles to score three runs against him with Orioles hitters Manny Machado and Chris Davis once again doing most of the offensive damage for the Orioles; Machado and Davis combined to knock in all three of the Orioles runs.
Even though Lester did not concede even more runs to the Orioles, his pitching was largely unimpressive, especially since he gave up those three earned runs over 6.0 innings, which meant he just met the minimum requirements for a quality start. However, there was really nothing quality about his start other than by the strictest of definitions.
Lester only managed to strand 62.5 percent of the base runners he allowed, played with fire considering the high number of fly balls he allowed (12), and perhaps worst of all, issued three walks. The three walks almost ensured that Lester would not be able to pitch deep into the game since Lester threw 17 pitches during those three plate appearances, which translates to 5.7 pitches per plate appearance. For his entire performance, Lester averaged 4.3 pitches per plate appearance, and even his four strikeouts, which he got on 18 pitches, only required 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. Those three walks, while only comprising 11.5 percent of the 26 batters he faced, represented 15.2 percent of the pitches Lester had to throw.
Not only did the walks extend innings for the Orioles, they also made Lester throw more pitches and work harder and force the bullpen to get the final nine outs of the game. Fortunately, the bullpen kept the Orioles from scoring any more, but not without some tense moments. Red Sox relievers had to pitch with runners in scoring position in five plate appearances as they had their own struggles recording outs in a more efficient fashion.
Still, as much as the pitching might not have dominated the contest in an aesthetically pleasing way, it was much better than whatever the offense thought it was doing on Thursday. Seemingly, the offense was just concerned with getting base runners in scoring position, and with that accomplished, were satisfied with a hard day’s work. That is the only explanation I can come up with for why the Red Sox hitters could only muster one hit in ten at-bats with runners in scoring position. They also did not live up to their run expectancy by any means, clocking in with a -3.19 RE24 and not scoring when events were in their favor.
Furthermore, the -0.658 win probability added by the offense also speaks to the problems the offense had in rising to the occasion and producing during the more important plate appearances.
A prime example of the phenomenon of coming up short at the most inopportune times was the events of the eighth inning. During the eighth inning when the Red Sox were trailing 3-2, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single and then stole second base to position himself in scoring position with no outs. At the very least, the Red Sox should have scored one run thanks to Ellsbury’s production, but instead, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz all recorded outs. Ellsbury made it as far as third base, but no farther.
Even with the loss, the Red Sox still hold a 2.5 game-lead in the American League East since the Rays also lost on Thursday, but they will still be kicking themselves for missing out on so many run-scoring opportunities, especially with their pitching staff, without its best stuff, keeping the team in the game.