As bad as the Red Sox have been during this 2-10 stretch that has them teetering on the edge of the wild card race, take away three bad outings from their best pitcher, and maybe they're don't find themselves in such dire straits.
Of course, they can't do that, and the three losses in Matt Barnes' last four outings all count. But as we evaluate the impact of attrition on a bullpen that's been asked to shoulder a heavy workload, Barnes stands front and center as a big arm that's wilting from overuse.
Manager Alex Cora admitted as much after the right-hander's latest implosion, a four-run ninth that was the difference in an 8-4 loss to the Rays on Tuesday. It came on the heels of a decisive three-run homer to former college teammate George Springer in a 9-8 loss to the Blue Jays, which came one day after serving up a walkoff shot to Toronto's Marcus Semien.
Two of those games were tied, so there's no guarantee the Red Sox would've won even if Barnes had gone 1-2-3, but there's little doubt that his regression has helped put the team in the position of trying to prove its first half wasn't a fluke as it fights for its playoff life.
"Barnesy right now, he's doing his best," Cora said. "I should probably take care of him in a sense. It's not fair, obviously. He wants to do it, he's willing to do it. But it's been a grind for him lately."
Red Sox fans may recall June of 2019, when Barnes pitched 15 times in a brutally taxing role created just for him, staring down the heart of opposing lineups at the most pivotal moment of each game. After posting a sub-2.00 ERA through June 1, Barnes got lit up for the rest of the month as his ERA soared to 4.93.
By the time July arrived, Cora had to admit that he had asked too much of the right-hander. That's not necessarily the case this time around. Because the Red Sox have been so mediocre since the All-Star break, Barnes has found himself with only six save opportunities in the second half.
When Cora talks about protecting him, he's really talking about the last week. Barnes pitched in each ends of Saturday's doubleheader in Toronto, blowing one game and winning the other. He then blew Sunday's series finale when asked to record a four-out save, before entering Tuesday's game in the ninth inning of a 4-4 tie. The four runs in 0.2 innings ballooned his ERA to a season-high 3.52.
"He pitched in a doubleheader, he pitched on Sunday, he had to come in today," Cora said. "For how valuable he is for us, how much we rely on him, there are certain situation that for his benefit body-wise we're better off staying away from him, giving him this entire game. For us to be better, everyone has to contribute."
And that's the real problem. With lefty Darwinzon Hernandez injured, lefty Josh Taylor struggling under his own workload, and right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura removed from Sunday's appearance with arm soreness (though he returned to pitch on Tuesday), the Red Sox aren't as deep at the end of the game as they'd like. Right-hander Garrett Whitlock remains a multi-inning weapon, but he has yet to pitch on consecutive days and has made 25 of his 33 appearances with at least two days' rest.
Meanwhile, right-hander Adam Ottavino has allowed eight runs in nine innings since the All-Star break, and new arrivals Hansel Robles and Austin Davis have pitched every bit as badly as their pre-trade deadline numbers suggested.
As a result, the Red Sox have asked a lot of Barnes recently -- perhaps too much.
"I think it's more that than anything else," Cora said. "We still trust the guy, we know he's good, but at the same time, it's kind of like when you win a lot of close games, you go to your closer. In these situations, tie game the first game, tied or ahead in the second one, and then on Sunday we want him to go four outs, that's something we should talk about, obviously, because for us to pull this off, it's not only him and Adam and JT and Whit. It has to be everybody."