Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Anatomy of a losing streak

With Boston's 8-6 win in Atlanta yesterday, the Red Sox ended a 10-game losing streak, and narrowly avoided joining the 1998 Florida Marlins as the only defending World Series Champion to lose 11 straight.

Obviously, you do not lose 10 straight games without playing badly. Very badly. But there's some amount of luck involved, too, games in which you get good pitching but don't score, and others in which you get some offense but poor pitching. Their expected performance over 10 games, based on runs scored and allowed, would have been somewhere between 2-8 and 3-7 - not good, but not quite so crippling as a 10-game losing streak, either. But they didn't manage that.

So, it's interesting to take a quick look at what happened.

Red Sox 10-game losing streak

Thursday, May 15@MIN34Clay Buchholz6.003

Friday, May 16DET01Jon Lester5.001

Saturday, May 17DET16John Lackey5.336

Sunday, May 18DET26Jake Peavy6.005

Tuesday, May 20TOR47Felix Doubront4.005

Wednesday, May 21TOR46Clay Buchholz4.675

Thursday, May 22TOR27Jon Lester6.337

Friday, May 23@TBR01John Lackey7.000

Saturday, May 24@TBR56Jake Peavy6.005

Sunday, May 25@TBR58Brandon Workman5.003

Game 1 - Clay Buchholz started and was mediocre, but between Buchholz and the bullpen, the Sox only allowed 3 runs through 8 innings. When Will Middlebrooks drove in two with a single in the top of the ninth, the game was tied at three. Andrew Miller pitches a scoreless ninth, but gave up one with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, as the Twins walk-off against Miller and the Red Sox for the second time in three days.

Game 2 - Jon Lester gives up one run in the top of the first to the Tigers, and the score never changes again, as the Red Sox pitching is outstanding, but the bats are completely stifled by Max Scherzer and four Tiger relievers. (Both starters are innings-limited due to a rain delay.)

Game 3 - After 2 1/2 innings, the Tigers, who scored one in the second and one in the third, had all of the runs they'd need as the Boston offense is shut down again, scoring one in the fifth en route to a 6-1 loss. Lackey struggled, allowing all six runs, five earned, over 5 1/3 innings.

Game 4 - For the first time during the streak, the Red Sox hold a lead, but it's brief, lasting less than an inning. After scoring one in the bottom of the second to take that lead, the Tigers score three in the top of the third to take a lead that they won't relinquish. Jake Peavy allows five runs over 6 innings and Detroit wins 6-2, finishing a three-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway, a series in which the Tigers outscored Boston 13-3.

Game 5 - It's Felix Doubront's turn to take to the mound and struggle, as Toronto scores in the 3rd, 4th and 5th against him. He ends up getting just 12 outs and allowing 5 runs, including two HR, and discloses after the game that his pitching shoulder was sore because he banged it on a car door earlier in the week. Boston scores two runs in a couple of different innings to make it look like a comeback was possible, but never closes the deal, losing 7-4. Doubront goes to the DL after the game.

Game 6 - Clay Buchholz has another poor start, allowing five runs (4 earned) in just 4 2/3 innings. Toronto scores in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th off Buchholz and another against the bullpen later. Boston scores 3 in the bottom of the 8th to make the final score (6-4) look more competitive than the game was.

Game 7 - Needing a win, Boston sends its ace to the mound. Lester retires one Blue Jay batter before allowing back-to-back home runs. After Boston scores a run in the first for the first time in a week, Lester allows five more in the second. He doesn't allow any more, but it doesn't really matter, as the seven the Blue Jays have already scored are more than Boston will, as they lose 7-2 and finish a six game homestand winless for the first time in 20 years.

Game 8 - John Lackey gets the ball and gives the Red Sox seven outstanding innings, holding Tampa scoreless. But the offense is absent, and the Rays score one in the 9th off of Andrew Miller (though he's not actually on the mound when the run scores) to walk off with a 1-0 win. After the game both Shane Victorino (hamstring) and Mike Napoli (finger) end up on the DL.

Game 9 - For only the second time during the streak, the Red Sox score in the first. For only the second time during the streak, they take a lead. For the first time during the streak, the Red Sox start an inning with a lead. Against David Price, the Red Sox score five runs in the first. But Jake Peavy struggles, and the lead is gone when he gives up 3 in the 5th. And then no one scores until the bottom of the 15th when Andrew Miller gives up a run and Tampa walks off with another win. For Miller, it's the fourth time in six appearances that he gives up a walk-off winning run, twice in the bottom of the ninth and twice later. For the Red Sox, they have scored in one of the 24 innings they've played in the first two games in Tampa.

Game 10 - Brandon Workman makes his first Major League start of the year, filling in for Doubront, and is so-so, allowing three runs over five innings. Boston comes from behind to tie it at 3-3 on a pinch-hit home run from Jonny Gomes in the 7th, but three batters into the bottom of the 7th, Tampa has gone walk-single-hr to take a 6-3 lead. Breslow ends up allowing 5 earned runs in an appearance for the first time in his career as Tampa ends the 7th up 8-3. The inning features a benches-clearing debate after Yunel Escobar takes 3rd base on defensive indifference, and then takes offense at comments from the Red Sox dugout, and the Red Sox dugout then takes offense at his response. Boston does score 2 in the 9th and has the tying run in the on deck circle when the final out is made in the 8-5 loss.

Odds and ends:
  • Six of the losses in the streak were at home, four on the road.

  • Six of their losses were in the division.

  • Three times they went to the bottom of the ninth tied. They lost each time, with Andrew Miller taking the losses. (And there was one more game exactly like that if you include the two games that preceded the streak and consider the 1-11 stretch.)

  • Xander Bogaerts (.368/.415/.605/1.020, 8.51 runs created, 8.51 RC/25 outs) had a pretty good stretch. No one else created even five runs.

  • The stars, the ones that are supposed to carry the offense, were dreadful, as Ortiz and Pedroia, combined to create less than four runs: Ortiz & Pedroia (.160/.259/.200/.459, 3.55 runs created, 1.41 RC/25 outs).

  • The outfield has been a black hole offensively - Outfield (.157/.186/.269/.454, 3.84 runs created, 1.02 RC/25 outs). And those numbers include Jonny Gomes (.304/.346/.565/.911, 4.60 runs created, 6.77 RC/25 outs) - the others have been worse. Looking at just the starters, Victorino, Bradly and Sizemore, they hit (.127/.148/.203/.351, .03 runs created, .01 RC/25 outs) during the streak.

  • Given that, it's not surprising that they were struggling to score.

  • As a team, they hit (.212/.268/.307/.575, 27.72 runs created, 2.37 RC/25 outs). Their opposition hit (.290/.347/.472/.819, 60.52 runs created, 5.29 RC/25 outs).

  • They hit six home runs and allowed 14. They hit 16 doubles and allowed 25. They struck out 88 times in 358 at-bats (24.5%) vs. striking out the opposition 71 times in 379 at-bats (18.7%).

  • They never scored more than five runs in any game. Those were the last two games of the streak - in the first 8 games, they scored 16 runs total, 2 runs per game.

  • They held the opposition to one run twice. Each time, they failed to score themselves.

  • Lackey and Lester each had one bad start and one good one. The good starts both resulted in 1-0 losses.

  • They lost 1-0 on consecutive Fridays.

  • They took the field on May 15 just 1/2 game out of first place in the AL East. At the end of play on the 25th, they were 8 games out. I said in yesterday's pythagorean report that they played themselves out of contention over the last 10 games. That's what it looks like.

  • Four of their starters - Middlebrooks, Doubront, Victorino and Napoli - went to the DL during the streak.

  • Six of the losses went to starters, four to the bullpen.

  • Despite that, the bullpen pitched much better than the starting staff did. Relievers compiled a 2.56 ERA over 38 2/3 innings, while starters compiled a 6.18 ERA over 55 1/3. And five of the 12 runs allowed by relievers came in Breslow's career-worst meltdown inning on Sunday - for the rest of the streak, the bullpen ERA was 1.42. Badenhop, Uehara, Wilson, Capuano, Tazawa and Mujica combined to allow four runs over 28 innings.

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