On baseball

Something is always missing

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 7, 2012
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The Red Sox just can’t seem to get in synch.

One week their hitting disappears. Then they return home and hit, but can’t pitch.

You keep thinking this team will eventually put it all together, break away from the pack in the AL East behind the Yankees, and challenge for a wild-card spot.

But every time they seem to be making progress, there’s a setback.

The starting staff was superb on the recent 2-5 road trip, with only Daisuke Matsuzaka preventing them from having seven quality starts (he lasted one-plus inning and landed on the disabled list). But Friday night Josh Beckett allowed five runs in the first inning.

The Sox’ offense responded with five runs in the bottom of the inning, but then you were left with something not witnessed very often this season, a blown lead by the bullpen.

The strong suit of this team let them down in a 10-8 loss to the Yankees.

When a starting pitcher is as bad as Beckett was and the offense bails him out, the bullpen has to hold the fort. Beckett, who was booed after the first inning, managed to leave the game with a 7-6 lead after five and was in position to earn the win — as ridiculous as that sounds.

It’s hard to be overly critical of the bullpen because these moments haven’t occurred very often. But this simply illustrates the Sox’ problem: The thing that wasn’t working, the offense, came around, and the thing that was working, the bullpen, let them down.

Matt Albers was fine in the sixth, but Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, and Scott Atchison, who have been stalwart setup men, couldn’t do their jobs in the seventh. Miller walked Curtis Granderson and then Alex Rodriguez reached on an infield hit that shortstop Mike Aviles couldn’t backhand.

After Miller struck out Robinson Cano, Bobby Valentine opted for Padilla.

He allowed a two-run triple to Mark Teixeira, and with two outs an RBI double by Raul Ibanez. Atchison came on and gave up an RBI single by Eric Chavez that gave the Yankees a 10-7 lead.

Valentine had no qualms about bringing in Padilla to face the switch-hitting Teixeira, with whom Padilla has had some battles through the years. Valentine reasoned, “I don’t care about the personal stuff because the way Padilla’s been throwing, that’s who I want in there.”

And with good reason. Padilla had allowed only one inherited runner out of 19 to score before Teixeira doubled that. That was the best percentage in the majors, so any time Padilla fails, it’s surprising.

The Sox still have 15 games left against their biggest rival. They are 8½ games back. At this stage they shouldn’t be worried about first place. They should be worried about winning series and playing consistently in all phases of the game.

When the Sox finally get their full complement of players back, they will be the most talented team of the wild-card candidates in their division.

You can use the “hanging in there until we get healthy” slogan for so long. And the Sox have done that well. But eventually they have to do more than hang in.

The Sox had a chance to gain ground and take over second place while on the West Coast playing a pair of sub-.500 teams, but instead they lost ground and are now battling Toronto for last.

They had a chance to beat the Yankees in their home ballpark, but once again failed to take advantage on a night when their bats were due to come around and their ace was on the mound.

They have dropped their last five series openers.

“You can look at it positively, sure,” Daniel Nava said. “We’ve got what — 77 games left?”

It’s actually 79. Then 79 turn into 69, and then 59. And before you know it, you’re not just “hanging in there” anymore. You’re hanging yourself.

Yes, this team has suffered an abnormal number of injuries — 23 trips to the disabled list totaling 907 games missed. The latest casualty is Dustin Pedroia, who was hitting only .210 since suffering his first thumb injury May 28 but had showed signs of coming around before reinjuring his thumb. It’s not just his offense that will be missed, it’s also his tremendous defense and leadership on the field.

Yes, it’s been tough.

It’s been tough to come up with lineups. It’s been tough to have any type of continuity.

Valentine said he was not satisfied with the team’s record to this point. He has never lamented the injuries with which he’s been beset in his first season with the Sox, but Valentine knows more than anyone that if the team fails to make the playoffs for a third straight year, he will be the one taking the blame even though he had nothing to do with the first two years.

One solace Friday night was that the offense returned somewhat to form. Oh, there was a chance for Adrian Gonzalez to do something big in the eighth inning with runners at first and second with two outs, two runs down, but it just didn’t happen.

So Nava may be right. There is time to get this right, to have all aspects of the game come together.

And that needs to start in this series.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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