When every component of a meal tastes like swill, you don't blame the ingredients. You blame the chef.
Right now, the Red Sox are what you scrape off your plate and directly into the trash for fear of stinking up the compost. That's not Tanner Houck's fault or Bobby Dalbec's or slow-starting Trevor Story's. It's on the man who assembled this imperfect mix -- Chaim Bloom.
A functional roster can survive the loss of its fourth starter for two turns through the rotation, especially if you enter the season knowing that Houck is unvaccinated and thus unavailable in Toronto. A functional roster can win games without using Garrett Whitlock. A functional roster doesn't feature five regulars sporting sub-.600 OPS's.
And a functional roster definitely doesn't blow a 5-2 lead to the Blue Jays in the ninth after one of its biggest offensive innings of the season because there's no one trustworthy behind left-hander Jake Diekman, who ain't exactly Aroldis Chapman himself.
Tuesday's 6-5 loss was clearly the low point of the season, and it highlighted Bloom's failings. If we start at the end, the bullpen ran out of arms. Save for one borderline miraculous save in New York, Diekman has been a disaster, allowing 13 baserunners in just 5.1 innings. He tried to give away the club's last win, vs. the Rays, by walking the bases loaded in the ninth, but Matt Barnes saved him by retiring Wander Franco to end it.
Barnes would've been the normal choice to close this one, but he hasn't been right since last August, when George Springer walked him off amidst the run of misery that has (permanently?) altered the course of the former All-Star's career. Bloom knew he couldn't rely on Barnes to close this year, but he left that spot vacant anyway on the assumption that an option would emerge. That man clearly isn't Diekman and suddenly Alex Cora's options are dwindling pretty much to Hansel Robles.
Except Robles is generally needed before the ninth because there's no bridge for the sixth, seventh, and eighth. The bullpen is populated by low-leverage arms, from Phillips Valdez to Kutter Crawford to Hirokazu Sawamura to Tyler Danish to Barnes. Right-hander Ryan Brasier might own the most misleading 3.60 ERA in history, since he has allowed eight of 11 inherited runners to score.
The club's best reliever is now a starter and potentially a damn good one. Garrett Whitlock should've opened the season in the rotation, because that's his future, but the Red Sox needed him to fill an old-fashioned Bob Stanley role in relief. He deserves the certainty of a rotation spot without looking back, and yet anyone watching Tuesday's game wondered if he'd be summoned to put out the fire. When one pitcher is that essential on a nightly basis, you've messed up the roster.
And make no mistake, the Red Sox are squandering an opportunity. While there have been descriptions of 2022 as a bridge season, it feels more like a blowing-up-the-bridge season. All-Stars Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi will be free agents this fall. Superstar third baseman Rafael Devers still lacks a long-term extension. Center fielder Kiké Hernández and catcher Christian Vazquez are set to hit the market, too.
Forget about bridge year. This should've been an all-in year, but Bloom didn't build it that way. He took the long view on left-hander James Paxton, a starter who almost certainly won't meaningfully contribute until 2023 as he recovers from Tommy John. He replaced talented left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez with stopgaps Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, because he clearly expected Chris Sale to bounce back, which is never a wise bet. Instead the erstwhile All-Star suffered yet another setback and won't pitch until June or July.
There were whiffs offensively, too. The Red Sox clearly needed a right-handed hitting outfielder and they didn't sign one, reacquiring Jackie Bradley Jr. to play against righties and punting Christian Arroyo to one of the most difficult right fields in baseball, even though he had never played there. The two are hitting a combined .185.
At first base, Bloom decided to ride the platoon of Dalbec and Travis Shaw rather than seek an upgrade. He missed a window to trade Dalbec this winter after a monster August allowed him to finish with a respectable 25 homers. If Bloom didn't want to pay Freddie Freeman to man a position that could soon belong to prospect Triston Casas, he at least could've found a better left-handed complement to Dalbec than Shaw, whose next hit or walk will be his first of the season.
We should also mention a monumental misreading of the clubhouse. When Bloom reportedly offered homegrown superstar Xander Bogaerts what amounts to a one-year and $30 million extension, he didn't just offend one of the proudest and most loyal players in the organization. He also signaled to the rest of the clubhouse how he plans on conducting business -- sign a team-friendly deal or we'll find someone else, even if we're talking about the face of the franchise. The presence of Trevor Story on a six-year, $140 million deal only heightens the feeling that Bogaerts is suddenly expendable.
That situation has the potential to turn the clubhouse against the front office, as happened in 2014 when unhappy veterans Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jonny Gomes were shipped out at the trade deadline.
That's a lot of misery to pack into 18 games. Bloom demonstrated the ability to make in-season fixes last year, and with the Red Sox just a half game out of last place, he's going to need to do so again -- but this time to clean up his own mess.