Sloppy defense and a lack of scoring opportunities is what did the Red Sox in on Saturday night, as they dropped their second straight to the Cubs by a final score of 3-1 at Wrigley Field.
Cubs starter Alec Mills threw just seven pitches and faced two batters in the first inning before leaving the game with lower back pain. He was relieved by Mark Leiter Jr., who allowed just one run over 5 1/3 impressive innings on short notice.
That lone Red Sox run came in the sixth inning, when after Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled and Jarren Duran singled to put runners at the corners with no outs, Rafael Devers grounded into a run-scoring, 1-4-3 double play.
At that point, Boston was trailing Chicago by just one run at 2-1. Josh Winckowski, making his fifth start of the season for the Sox, had gotten tagged for two runs in the bottom of the second inning.
After retiring the side in order in the first, Winckowski gave up a leadoff single to Patrick Wisdom, who then took second base on a Devers throwing error. The very next batter, Nico Hoerner, attempted to move Wisdom over to third by laying a bunt. Winckowski fielded said bunt, but air-mailed his throw to first base, which allowed Wisdom to score the game’s first run. Hoerner moved up to second on Winckowski’s error and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Narciso Crook to make it a 2-o game.
Despite those shaky results early on, Winckowski ultimately settled into his outing. The right-hander allowed just the two runs (one earned) on six hits, one walk, and six strikeouts over six solid innings of work. Of the 94 pitches he threw, 63 went for strikes.
Dating back to June 15, Winckowski owns an ERA of 1.96 in his last four starts. On the season as a whole, the 24-year-old hurler has posted a 3.12 ERA.
In relief of Winckowski, Ryan Brasier received the first call out of the Boston bullpen from manager Alex Cora and he needed just 14 pitches to face the minimum in a scoreless bottom of the seventh.
Tanner Houck made his first appearance since last Sunday in the eighth and gave up a one-out single to Wilson Contreras. Contreras was pinch-ran for by Nelson Velazquez, who promptly stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored from third on an RBI single off the bat of Wisdom.
Taking a 3-1 lead into the ninth, the Cubs had already received a stellar effort out of their bullpen. Duran led off the top of the ninth with a double off veteran closer David Robertson. He then stole third base but was stranded there after Devers and J.D. Martinez struck out, Xander Bogaerts drew a walk, and Alex Verdugo lined out to center field to end the game with a final score of 3-1.
With the loss, the Red Sox have dropped four of their last five contests to fall to 43-35 on the season. They have already lost their last two series and are now at risk of getting swept for the first time since May 5-9 when they did so against the White Sox.
Next up: Seabold vs. Thompson
In order to avoid a second straight sweep, the Red Sox will activate and send rookie right-hander Connor Seabold to the mound in Sunday’s series finale. The Cubs will counter with fellow righty Keegan Thompson.
First pitch from Wrigley Field is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)