Top-Ranked Red Sox Offense Sputtering, Still Awaiting Key Returns to Lineup

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Top-Ranked Red Sox Offense Sputtering, Still Awaiting Key Returns to Lineup Some of the excitement surrounding the Red Sox the past few days has involved the rehab starts and imminent returns of All-Star Clay Buchholz and Opening Night starter Josh Beckett.

The rotation will soon get a big boost, and that’s a good thing.

The question remains for the revamped pitching staff — how much run support will it get?

Without multiple All-Stars in its everyday lineup, the Sox’ offense has hit a wall. After a 4-2 loss to Texas on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, Boston has been held to five runs or less in 10 of its last 11 games. Prior to the slump, the club was averaging 5.6 runs per game, the best mark in the majors.

Several factors enter into the scenario, but most notable is the simple lack of firepower with Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia on the bench.

Without Martinez, a quartet of catchers has combined to hit .122 (6-for-49). Pedroia’s replacements at second base, Bill Hall and Eric Patterson, have hit .206 (13-for-63) in their starts at the position. Hall is hitless in his last 11 at-bats and his average is down to .230.

And while Daniel Nava’s debut was one for the ages and his average is still a very respectable .291, he has not homered since that first pitch he crushed for a grand slam back on June 12 and has just four extra-base hits in his last 17 games. Hits have been harder to come by for Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre.

The club even went the unconventional route of keeping three catchers for a day after recalling Dusty Brown on Saturday, just so they could have more options at that position in late-game situations — Kevin Cash and Gustavo Molina are 4-for-37.

The trio of Hall, Nava and Brown was 0-for-6 and hit into two double plays on Sunday.

When the offense begins to sputter, everything else becomes magnified. The difference in Sunday’s loss was an error on Beltre (.186 in July) that allowed one run to score and a steal of home by Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon that came on one of Jon Lester’s six strikeouts.

“I thought he pitched well enough to win,” manager Terry Francona said of Lester. “We weren’t doing enough offensively.”

It’s hard to imagine that being a theme given what this lineup has done in 2010.

In a year that some expected would see a drop in production, the Sox have surprised many by leading the majors in runs scored for roughly two months. That remains the case, but until some reinforcements arrive, the replacements have better results or guys that at one time carried the load (Beltre, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis) get red-hot again, the club will have to grind out some low-scoring affairs.

Martinez played catch Sunday afternoon, the first time he has done so since going down with the broken thumb on June 27. Unfortunately, he still felt pain. There is no specific timetable for his return from an injury that the club initially thought would cost him just the 15 days on the disabled list.

Pedroia will wear a boot on his broken left foot through the club’s 10-game West Coast road trip, in all likelihood, before being re-examined. A return in early August is a best-case scenario.

It’s likely the Sox will play the entirety of the trip without the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters they have sorely missed. Sure, they will welcome back Buchholz and Beckett with open arms and immediately boast a top-notch rotation once again but, for now, the best offense in baseball is struggling to provide support.

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