Real or Not? Taken down by Texas, Red Sox have lost their way again

This is not something anyone expected to see on June 11:

Texas Rangers: 36-30
Boston Red Sox: 34-34

After all, last year the Red Sox won 108 games, won the World Series and brought the entire team back. The Rangers finished 67-95. They were 41 games worse than the Red Sox in the win column and 340 runs worse than the Red Sox in run differential. Their big offseason moves were signing Lance Lynn and trading away Jurickson Profar. They signed 36-year-old veteran Hunter Pence to a minor league contract at the outset of spring training. The forecasts for the Rangers weren’t particularly optimistic.

Yet here we are after the Rangers beat the Red Sox 9-5 at Fenway on Tuesday, their second straight win to begin the four-game series. If the season ended today the Rangers would be the second wild card in the American League and the Red Sox would go home as one of the most disappointing teams in recent years. This play is symbolic of the seasons for both clubs:

Pence lofts a little fly ball down the right-field line. Brock Holt and Mookie Betts don’t perform good baseball. Pence circles the bases with a two-run inside-the-park home run. Pence now has as many or more than home runs as Khris Davis, Rhys Hoskins, Kris Bryant, J.D. Martinez or Paul Goldschmidt, to name a few noteworthy sluggers. He’s a potential All-Star. Rangers fans are loving the surprise season from their hometown hero (Pence went to Arlington High School):

What has happened to the Red Sox? Obviously, they miss Craig Kimbrel and the rotation got off to that horrible start, but they had appeared to right the ship. Instead, now they’re teetering again like a luxury cruise liner with a bad case of norovirus. Check out their past eight series, working backwards:

0-2 vs. Rangers
1-3 vs. Rays
3-0 vs. Royals
1-2 vs. Yankees
1-2 vs. Indians
1-2 vs. Astros
3-1 vs. Blue Jays
1-2 vs. Astros

They’re 6-1 against the woeful Royals and Blue Jays and 5-13 against the good teams. They’re now 10-20 on the season against teams currently .500 or better. One thing to wonder about, playing more pop psychologist than statistical analyst: last year, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Chris Sale were so good it just seemed to lift the entire team. You had two superstars to carry the offense and take the pressure off everyone else and, at least until Sale got injured in August, maybe the best starter in the majors to dominate every fifth day.

Well, Sale got off to that horrible start, Martinez has had some back issues cut into his production and Betts has been excellent — just not as excellent. The air of invincibility that those three carried last season hasn’t been there, cutting into some of that “we’re going to find a way to win” attitude that the 2018 Red Sox maintained all season and into the playoffs. Holt and Betts not hustling after the ball on Pence’s home run is representative of how the Red Sox simply haven’t been as locked in as 2018.

Pence — now hitting .284/.345/.585 — isn’t the only surprise on the Rangers. Mike Minor, 5-4 with a 2.52 ERA, has been one of the best starters in the American League. Joey Gallo had taken his game to a new level before the oblique strain sidelined him. They found Danny Santana off the scrap heap and he’s hitting .299/.338/.490. Nonetheless, it’s a team with clear concerns: They’ve run through 12 starting pitchers, Rougned Odor has a .250 OBP, the bullpen hasn’t been particularly stellar, Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara aren’t tearing it up.

Which team is most likely to get there? I’d still bet on the Red Sox. FanGraphs playoff odds still heavily favor Boston as well:

Red Sox: 90-72, 61.3 percent playoff odds
Rangers: 80-82, 3.8 percent playoff odds

One reason for the pessimism for the Rangers is that they’ve outperformed their BaseRuns stats by four wins while the Red Sox have underperformed by three. That’s another way of saying the Rangers have been clutch and the Red Sox haven’t — and you can’t project those trends to continue.

Still, the Rangers have put themselves in position to make a wild-card run. In a league with as many bad teams as the AL has, it makes sense that we’d see a surprise team. Maybe that will be the Rangers.

The Astros have found their DH: Yordan Alvarez homered in his first game in the majors on Sunday and he homered in his second game in Houston’s 10-8 win over Milwaukee:

OK, it was hardly a monster mash, but the 21-year-old Cuban displayed his raw power by hitting it out without even putting a big swing on the ball, making him the first player in Astros history to homer in his first two games. The 21-year-old Cuban had hit .343/.443/.772 at Triple-A with 23 home runs in 56 games. I don’t think he needs to worry returning to Round Rock.

Tuesday night in home runs: Maybe we’ll make this a regular feature. Let’s see …

• Alvarez hit that ball out even though it looked he was merely chipping a ball onto the green at Pebble Beach. The Astros hit four home runs in the game. The Brewers hit three in the loss, including Christian Yelich’s 25th.

• The Braves hit four home runs in the second inning of their 7-5 win over the Pirates — and five in the game, all off Chris Archer. That’s two days in a row we had a pitcher surrender five home runs (and don’t forget the four in a row the Nationals hit off Craig Stammen on Sunday).

• The Yankees hit three home runs in a 12-5 win over the Mets, including Gary Sanchez’s 20th. Sanchez was the DH and in eight games as a DH he’s hit .333 with seven home runs.

• The Mets responded with three home runs to win the second game of the doubleheader 10-4. Pete Alonso hit a three-run blast in the first inning off James Paxton, his 22nd in 66 career games. Most home runs through 70 career games:

Jose Abreu: 26
Cody Bellinger: 25
Matt Olson: 24
Gary Sanchez: 23
Wally Berger: 23

Eloy Jimenez hit his first home run at home in his young career. It only went 462 feet:

Catch of the day: Victor Robles with the sensational grab…

Until tomorrow … enjoy your baseball.

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