BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox in the wee hours of Thursday morning, earning a much-needed victory but taking a couple of extra hours to do it.
Despite the win, the Red Sox still sit in last place in the AL East and are owners of the second-worst record (6-9) in the American League, better only than the lowly Houston Astros.
That’s not where the defending World Series champions ought to be after three weeks of baseball, and a major reason why is an issue of hitting with runners in scoring position. It was a problem after the first week of the season, when the team was hitting .304 with the bases empty but just .136 with RISP. That, however, was supposed to be an anomaly, and surely the two averages would meet somewhere in the middle and the Red Sox would begin to produce runs at their usual rate.
Yet things haven’t exactly gone as planned in the past two weeks. The Sox are now hitting .244 with the bases empty and .192 with RISP. For whatever reason, the Red Sox have had trouble coming up with RBI hits (they rank 24th in the majors in RBIs) and the end result has been some frustrating nights.
Though the result on Wednesday night was a positive one, the game looked all too familiar to anyone who’s watched the Sox lately. The team left 16 runners on base and went just 3-for-17 with RISP. One of those hits came in the top of the first inning, an RBI single by Xander Bogaerts. The next one didn’t come until the ninth inning, and that was an infield single by Jonny Gomes. The third and final hit with a runner in scoring position came in the 14th inning, off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr., which drove in two runs to win the game. That one happened to come off Leury Garcia, who also happens to be a second baseman, not a pitcher.
And that was it. Scattered among those three hits were three sacrifice flies and a whole bunch of nothing. A.J. Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore each went 0-for-3 with RISP, while David Ortiz (0-for-2) didn’t fare much better. The Red Sox went from the second inning through the eighth inning without getting one hit.
Of course, this is all ignoring the absurd 15 walks drawn by Red Sox batters on the night. It’s awfully hard to come up with RBI singles and doubles when you’re not seeing a pitch to hit.
Yet the issue of driving in runs extends beyond just last night. The team went 0-for-5 with RISP in a 2-1 loss on Tuesday night, dropping their record in one-run games to 1-4 (they went 21-21 in such games last season). They went 1-for-8 with RISP on Saturday in the Bronx, a 7-4 loss, and 0-for-5 with RISP in the Thursday night opener of the series with the Yankees, that one a 4-1 Red Sox loss.
There are some reasons and explanations, yes, such as injuries to Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks and a bit of a wrist issue for Dustin Pedroia. Some unseasonably frigid temperatures have also not made things easier for hitters this April.
But the Sox aren’t the only team to deal with injuries and cold weather, and the final sum is a team that has endured a very frustrating few weeks of baseball.
“I think at times, though, we also have been a little over-aggressive with runners in scoring position, where we haven’t taken the same approach toward building an inning as we’re trying to drive a run in,” John Farrell said prior to last night’s marathon, according to CSNNE’s Sean McAdam. “That’s led to some early swings and some expansion of the strike zone. At times, we’re kind of borderline forcing the issue a little bit.”
The manager’s admission that guys appear to be changing their approach when stepping to the plate in RBI situations is at least confirmation that the team is both aware of the problem and a bit bothered by it. Farrell was quick to point out that the magnifying glass is being applied a bit more than usual right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Red Sox simply need to be better — and not at grounding into double plays, a category in which the Sox lead the majors with 18 in 15 games played.
Bogaerts (.077), Pierzynski (.077) and Dustin Pedroia (.091) are all hitting lower than .100 with RISP, with Daniel Nava (.143), Jonny Gomes (.182) and David Ortiz (.182) all contributing to the problem. (Bradley, who’s hitting a cool .400 with RISP, is doing his part.) All of this must be said with the caveat that we’re looking at extremely small sample sizes, with the average number of at-bats with RISP among that group of six players being a whopping 11. Still, it’s a less than ideal start to the season for more than half of the starting lineup.
On the plus side, the Red Sox rank fourth in the AL in team ERA, and aside from Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop, they appear to have a very strong bullpen. There’s also the fact that nearly every member of the Sox lineup, save for maybe Bradley and the reinvented Sizmore, has proven capable of coming through with clutch hits at big times, and most of them have done it in a Boston uniform.
The team should be able to snap out of whatever it is that’s causing this futility at the plate with runners in scoring position. But through three weeks of their championship defense, the Red Sox’ most consistent trait has been their ability to play some wildly frustrating baseball games.
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