NEW YORK — Chris Sale will be making his biggest start since joining the Red Sox on Sunday, in the final scheduled game between the Yanks and Sox this season.
The spotlight will shine brighter on the hitters behind him.
Eduardo Nunez made his Red Sox debut on July 28. From that day through Saturday’s 5-1 Red Sox loss to the Yanks, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez are hitting a combined .225.
The Red Sox cannot continue to receive that level of production and expect good results. What’s really amazing is how well the team has played in spite of such numbers, in spite of the absences of key injured players.
The Sox are 21-12 since Nunez arrived, with the third-best win percentage in baseball. (Some Saturday games were still underway at the time this was written.) Their 3.86 ERA was the eighth best in the majors.
The pitching’s excellence has been consistent most of the year. The questionable nature of the lineup has been as well.
“Just kind of going along with the ride,” Betts said Saturday. “Just doing what I can to help the team win that’s all I’m focused on.”
Sox manager John Farrell said he hasn’t thought about a couple down days for Betts a la Bogaerts, namely because of how important Betts is even when not hitting well.
But Betts’ .313 slugging percentage since July 28, a 32-game stretch for him, is worse than all but 10 qualified players.
Ramirez on Saturday had loud outs and has looked better of late. But the offense that powered the Sox in August could wind up looking like an outlier rather than a correction.
Rafael Devers’ growing pains have been realized, both at the plate and in the field. There’s no surprise there, because he’s a 20-year-old rookie.
Mitch Moreland didn’t help Devers on a throw to first base Saturday that was wide, yet not so wide that it needed to skip away.
Devers had only himself to blame when he later took too long on a routine grounder from Brett Gardner, creating an infield hit.
“Yeah, he took his time,” manager John Farrell said. “Obviously, too much time. But I thought he was in good shape on the [wide] throw against [Gary] Sanchez and pulled it wide a little bit, and then took his time setting his feet against Gardner, and it cost him. These are key learning opportunities, learning moments, for him.”
Pennant races are an easier time to learn when there are others to lean on.
Nunez has eight home runs? How the heck did that happen? The surprise performances have come from all corners.
It’s very hard to be convinced they’ll continue.
Reality sets in. There’s a mean, a true ability and performance level, that typically shines through by the end of a season. That goes for both disappointing and bust-out performances, so you can find positivity in that thinking as well.
Bogaerts has been hurt, with a nagging right hand. Betts’ knee gave a scare in Cleveland, but there’s been no sense it’s holding him back at the plate.
Andrew Benintendi’s taken a step forward, hitting .322 since July 28. Bradley, fresh off the DL, has a .352 OBP in that stretch, so he has contributed as well.
But without Betts and Bogaerts close to form, the Red Sox offense is in an uncomfortable place. Others have picked up the slack, the pitchers included. But it’s a certain brand of optimism — more commonly called naivete — to think the Sox can find continued success with this formula.
August is gone. Now to find out if the offense is as well.