Red Sox’s Pitching Problems Overshadowing Unexpectedly Weak Offense

For all the talk of how bad the Boston Red Sox pitching, especially the rotation, has been, there’s another element of the team that has also struggled mightily—and rather unexpectedly—through the first quarter of the season.

That would be the offense.

Coming into the campaign, everybody just knew the Red Sox’s pitching staff would be shaky and inconsistent at best and downright dreadful at worst. It has been troublesome, and with a team ERA of 4.51 that ranks as the fourth-worst in baseball, the arms have been more the latter than the former.

That is particularly true of the starting rotation, which sports a ghastly 5.10 ERA, the worst in the sport. Yes, even behind the dreadful Colorado Rockies‘ five-man rotation. This, combined with the club’s disappointing 21-25 start, is why there have been almost-daily columns across Boston calling for the team to trade for an ace or two to shore up the staff.

But the Red Sox offense? That was supposed to be an undeniable strength—a dynamic, dangerous one-through-nine built around still-productive franchise stalwart David Ortiz, returns to health by Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, bolstered by lethal free-agent additions Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and further fueled by young up-and-comers Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.

Instead, the bats have been shaky and inconsistent at best and—that’s right—downright dreadful at worst.

Consider where Boston’s offense ranks among all 30 MLB teams in a number of key categories:

Plain as day, the Red Sox are in the bottom half, if not the bottom third, of the league in all of the above areas.

Making matters worse, things have been especially bad in May. In the season’s second month, Boston is sporting a .234/.296/.362 triple-slash line and ranks dead last in runs scored with 66, or nine fewer than the next-to-last team.

And although the Sox have been shut out only two times so far, they have scored three runs or fewer in 22 of their first 46 games—essentially, half of their contests.

And how’s this for a disturbing statistic: Of the 30 MLB teams, 28 have reached double digits in runs in a game at least once. The two who have yet to do so? The condemned Philadelphia Phillies and—yep, you guessed it—the Red Sox, who scored a season-high nine runs all the way back on April 13 and have topped six runs all of once since April 29.

The team’s production (or lack thereof) has gotten so bad that manager John Farrell has begun shaking up the lineup a bit with the hope of jarring some runs loose.

As Ian Browne of MLB.com writes:

In an effort to get more consistent production from his lineup, Red Sox manager John Farrell continues to try different combinations. The latest was Tuesday’s move of David Ortiz to the fifth spot in the batting order, marking the first time the slugger batted anywhere but third or fourth since 2012.

[…]

In recent days, Farrell flip-flopped Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts in the order, with Pedroia now leading off and Betts hitting second.

Farrell’s motivation? “I think it’s about maybe just a little bit of a different look,” the skipper said. “We’re going to rely a lot on those three guys in the middle of our order—David, Hanley and Pablo. Those guys have every capability to be an elite three guys in a lineup, and we’re trying to gain a little bit more production and consistency.”

While Ramirez had a hot start in his return to the Red Sox with 10 homers and 22 RBI in April, he has gone ice-cold in May (.230 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI) as his shoulder injury continues to linger after he banged into an outfield wall on May 4.

Same goes for Sandoval, who has battled through foot and knee ailments already and who may be considering the possibility of abandoning switch hitting because of his increasing trend of ineptitude from the right side (2-for-41, .049 BA).

As for Ortiz, well, he simply isn’t hitting much at all, what with a .222 average and a sub-.700 OPS amid questions that the 39-year-old no longer is the force he was for the past dozen seasons with Boston.

Despite the above, there are positive signs. For one, Napoli finally broke out of his season-long slump by going 9-for-21 (.429) with five homers and 10 RBI to win AL Player of the Week honors.

For another, the Red Sox’s team BABIP of .268 is the lowest in baseball, which means they have endured their fair share of bad luck on balls in play, especially since their walk rate (8.9 percent) and strikeout mark (17.0 percent) are each in the top five.

In other words, Boston’s bats may very well turn things around in short order. The team certainly has the personnel and pedigree to do just that.

The silver lining in all of this is that for as all-around bad as the Red Sox have been—both pitching and offense—they remain just four games under .500 and, better yet, only three games out of first place in the mediocre, wide-open AL East.

While the pitching staff may wind up needing a trade to solve its lacking-an-ace problem, the lineup has room for major improvement and a clearer path to it.

But until that happens, the offense remains nearly as big of a problem as the pitching, which is a narrative nobody was expecting coming into the season.

 

Statistics are accurate through Tuesday, May 26, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.comSports on Earth and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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