BALTIMORE -- Boston baseball fans who watched their team mash the ball on its latest homestand have a reasonable chance to see the same formidable offense on display when the Red Sox return to Fenway Park to play the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. Xander Bogaerts is working on a 26-game hit streak. Mookie Betts made history with a home run splurge this week in Baltimore. David Ortiz continues to smoke the ball with such authority that someone is going to have to at least broach rethinking his retirement proclamation.
If only Boston’s offense were complemented by better pitching. Too often, the euphoria of a productive Red Sox inning lasts only until the other team’s turn to bat.
The Red Sox won three of seven games on their road trip to Toronto and Baltimore, and the final scores reflect the emotional swings of the week. Boston’s three victories came by scores of 5-3, 7-2 and 6-2. Its four losses came by scores of 7-5, 10-9, 13-9 and, on Thursday, 12-7.
Offense is great when it comes in waves, but eventually, you have to stop someone. When manager John Farrell assessed the state of affairs, his words were resolute, and there was a trace of impatience in his voice.
"We’ve got to do some things differently, as far as our attack plan on the mound," Farrell said after Boston’s staff gave up seven homers Thursday at Camden Yards. "We’re not going to put up this kind of offense all the time. To do that on the road, in visiting ballparks, is a testament and a compliment to our offense. But we’ve got to find ways to navigate innings where we’ve got men on base. That’s been kind of a reoccurring theme."
The pregame theme Thursday revolved around the tenuous state of Boston’s rotation. David Price has picked up the pace over his past four starts, but the Red Sox will lean heavily on 31-year-old knuckleballer Steven Wright and the young, gifted and relatively untested Eduardo Rodriguez (who was stellar in his first start back from a knee injury) to hold things together while they try to establish continuity from the No. 1 spot through No. 5.
Rick Porcello, who sports a 4.00 ERA with six quality starts in his first 11 outings, allowed three of Baltimore’s seven homers Thursday. He chastised himself for poor pitch selection on a curveball to Adam Jones and a changeup to Mark Trumbo, both of which landed in the seats.
"Stupid mistakes on my part," Porcello said. "We had a good game plan going in. We knew what we wanted to do with these guys. That’s what makes it more frustrating. I felt like I handled the majority of the lineup really well, except those two guys. They scored five runs with those two guys."
The schedule gives Farrell and pitching coach Carl Willis some room to figure things out. The Red Sox have three days off between now and June 13, so they aren't going to need a fifth starter until June 18. What's more, they’ll need a fifth starter only three times before the All-Star break.
The question is: Who will it be? Clay Buchholz recently pitched his way to the bullpen, and Joe Kelly earned a trip to Triple-A Pawtucket with a 2 1/3-inning clunker on Wednesday. If Buchholz, Kelly or Pawtucket’s Roenis Elias can’t step in and provide some stability, that will prompt general manager Dave Dombrowski to take a more serious look at trade options in July.
The bullpen has its share of issues too, particularly now that Carson Smith is out for the year for Tommy John surgery. Robbie Ross Jr., Junichi Tazawa and Noe Ramirez combined to turn a close game into a blowout in the Baltimore finale.
Amid Boston’s pitching flare-ups, it’s fun to watch Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz feed off the nonstop energy of the team’s kids. Last week, Jackie Bradley Jr. was making news with a 29-game hit streak. Now the focus has shifted to Bogaerts, who singled twice Thursday to extend his streak to 26 games.
Like Bradley, Bogaerts has shown the discipline to stick with his game plan and not go outside the strike zone, even when it’s late in the game and the streak is at risk. He went hitless in his first two plate appearances against Ubaldo Jimenez before extending his streak with a long single off the left-center field wall in the sixth.
"I know I have [the streak]," Bogaerts said. "That’s reality, man. We live in a world where you know for sure that you have something like that."
The only blemish on Bogaerts’ evening: He stood and watched his first hit, so he wound up standing on first base when he should have been on second with a double. In a fortunate twist, the error in judgment worked out OK, as the Orioles were forced to pitch to Ortiz, and he hit a three-run homer to give Boston a short-lived 5-4 lead.
"I initially thought it was a sac fly," Bogaerts said. "I knew I hit it off the end of the bat a little bit. But I should have been on second base."
Just in case Bogaerts needed a reminder that he messed up, the play was addressed in the dugout.
"With his speed, he should be standing on second base in that situation," Farrell said. "We’ve already talked to him about it."
Farrell, understandably, declined to dwell on Bogaerts’ baserunning lapse. Maximizing Boston's offensive production is the least of his concerns at the moment.