It would be easy to pin the blame on Xander Bogaerts for the Red Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday that snapped a five-game winning streak.
But it’s not that simple.
For a player that’s read the temperature of the team arguably as well anyone all year — and one of the few who has understood and thrived at situational hitting — maybe he deserves the benefit of the doubt in this one.
Bogaerts didn’t trust his team to score him on this night, after Phillies ace Aaron Nola was brilliant for seven innings and the Phillies sent a trio of dominant relievers to the mound behind him.
The Sox came up empty on chance after chance.
“I think we had the leadoff guy on four times and we didn’t score,” manager Alex Cora said. “We had a man on second, no outs twice and we didn’t score.”
So when Bogaerts smacked a leadoff double to start the ninth against Phillies closer Hector Neris, he decided he’d press the issue.
“I was going to take a chance,” Bogaerts said afterward.
On a grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura — an offense-first player who has, according to FanGraphs’ defensive metrics, cost his team five runs compared to an average defender at shortstop this year — Bogaerts decided to test him.
J.D. Martinez hit a slow roller to Segura and Bogaerts ignored the golden rule of baserunning from second base. The ball was hit to his right, and Bogaerts ran anyways. There he went, a speedy player who ranks in the top 20 percent in sprint speed, charging toward third base to steal 90 feet in a crucial spot.
“Bogey is one of the best baserunners we have,” Cora said.
The ball was hit slowly, but Segura played it perfectly. The throw couldn’t have been better. And the tag from Scott Kingery swiped quickly down onto Bogaerts’ sliding hand just in time for the biggest out of the game.
“That’s a no-no, and he knows it,” the manager said. “That ball’s right in front of him, and that’s a big mistake right there.”
Bogaerts accepted the blame for trying to make something happen.
“Probably not the best way to think,” he said. “But based on how the game was going, I felt like we were on second base a lot and we kind of got stranded the whole game. It’s just a risk I took to try to get to third because obviously we know it’s a good pitcher and it was a mistake. Obviously wasn’t the right decision.”
Had he played it safely, the Sox would have had a good runner on second base with one out.
Statistically, MLB teams score 24 percent of the time in such situations.
But had Bogaerts succeeded in taking third, putting runners on the corners with nobody out, the Sox had a 43 percent chance to tie the game.
“If you look at the whole game, if you’re watching the game, you get to second on a double and you just stay there,” Bogaerts said. “We didn’t even advance to third with one out or no outs. I just did it based on how the game was going and obviously I should have stayed in the end.”
Bogaerts might have made a mistake, but it’s easy to see why he took the risk. Scoring key runs in close games hasn’t been Red Sox’ forte.
They’re second in MLB in total offense, but Cora has said all year that it doesn’t feel that way.
They have a whopping .960 OPS when one team is winning by a margin greater than four runs. If it’s four runs or less, the Sox have an .810 OPS. It’s as if they lead the league in meaningless runs.
Compared to the rest of the majors, it’s a horrendous drop-off. The Red Sox are 18.5 percent worse in tight games. Across the game, hitters are just 4 percent worse in tight games.
And lately, the Sox aren’t scoring against good teams.
“Sometimes good pitching, they’re going to do their job,” Cora said.
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