Having just put an eight-game losing streak behind them, you might think the Boston Red Sox have already reached the lowest of lows.
And yet, a new rock bottom stares them in the face as they host the Kansas City Royals in the rubber match of a three-game series Wednesday night.
To drop a series at home to the third-worst team in baseball would be all but a death blow to the Red Sox's playoff chances. After a 6-2 loss Tuesday, Boston is 6 1/2 games back in the wild-card hunt and in danger of falling behind another team, the surging Texas Rangers (also 6 1/2 back) among the pursuers.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (13-5, 4.19 ERA), the team's only consistent starter of late, will take the mound for the Red Sox opposite Royals righty Glenn Sparkman (3-7, 5.58).
After Rick Porcello gave up just one run in six innings in Monday's 7-5 Boston win in the series opener, Andrew Cashner was roughed up for six runs in 5 1/3 innings Tuesday. The result was far too familiar for the Red Sox, whose starters had a 10.95 ERA as a group during their eight-game skid ended Monday by Porcello.
"It's tough," catcher Christian Vazquez said of the rough patch. "We're human, we make mistakes. That's why this game is so hard to play. Turn the page, get it tomorrow."
Rodriguez gave up four runs for the first time since June 24 in his last start, though all the damage was done to him by a first-inning grand slam off the bat of New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres. After the frame, he allowed just two hits the rest of the way in pitching 6 2/3 innings, though he added a season-high six walks.
For his career, Rodriguez is 2-1 with a 5.46 ERA in six starts against the Royals. He gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings against Kansas City in an 8-3 win on June 4 earlier this season.
Kansas City snapped a seven-game losing streak of its own with Tuesday's win, in which outfielder Jorge Soler slugged a pair of two-run home runs, his 30th and 31st of the season. Ryan O'Hearn added a solo shot as the Royals won for just the second time in their last 12 games.
"It means a lot for me, for my family, for the organization," Soler said through a translator of getting to 30 homers. "It's like the magic number."
Soler, 27, entered this year with 38 homers in parts of five major league seasons.
"He's learning, he's growing," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "He's understanding what it takes to be a successful power hitter in an American League stocked with power hitters."
With their win, the Royals ended a franchise-long run of eight straight losses to the Red Sox.
Sparkman will look to end a personal rut when he takes the mound in the finale. The righty has allowed at least five runs in each of his last three starts, including six surrendered to the Minnesota Twins in 4 2/3 innings his last time out.
Sparkman shined against Boston earlier this season, giving up just one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings on June 4, the start won by Rodriguez. Lifetime, he has a 12.38 ERA in four appearances (one start) without a decision against the club.
-Field Level Media