A frustrating April for the Red Sox ended with perhaps their most mystifying effort, a fruitless endeavor against the Seattle Mariners that seemed emblematic of what was wrong with the first month of the season.
In going 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners overall in a 2-0 loss to the Mariners and the venerable Doug Fister, the Sox sent another sellout crowd home wondering when it would see the offense it had dreamed of seeing back during those long winter nights.
A common retort for the optimists is that the loaded Boston lineup will get it going at some point. That the miserable production with runners on base will turn around. That the bevy of bats struggling to hit .200 will soar well beyond it, and soon. That the offense many thought would lead the game in runs scored will not go another month without ever reaching double figures in a game, as it did in April (at 27 games, the longest such streak to begin a season in team history).
There is reason to believe all of these things. However, a more reasonable explanation may lie in a look around the majors. The Red Sox, while more talented on paper than most others out there, are just part of circuit-wide futility at the plate. Do not take their lack of crooked numbers as an indication that only they are missing their mark, although they are. Just accept that Boston is among the masses, one of many teams with stars below the Mendoza line and a schedule full of aggravating nights like Saturday at Fenway.
The Year of the Pitcher, Part II, has had such a powerful effect that it has swallowed up several lineups, even one like the Red Sox, who were expected to hammer opposing pitchers into submission.
According to STATS, the MLB team average of 4.29 runs per game through April represented the second-lowest figure since 1992. That was before the first day of May, which saw just six of the 30 teams record more than five runs. Consider that the night Seattle defeated Boston 2-0, there were 15 other teams in the majors who scored two runs or less, including four others who won, all by a 2-1 score.
This is nothing new. The end of the Steroid Era, increased specialization among pitching corps and an emphasis on defense, among other things, signaled this transformation in recent years. What has made fans in Boston so severely unsatisfied is the fact that the continued plunge in production league-wide has coincided with the massive increase in expectations for the Red Sox’ offense. Dreams of 15-2 wins and Triple Crown candidates have been overwhelmed by the reality that pitchers dominate the game today.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford were going to combine to steal 120 bases, or more. They are on pace for about half that. Adrian Gonzalez was going to hit 40 home runs and 60 doubles. He actually might have a chance at the latter, but he has gone deep just once in the season’s first month. And he’s been perhaps the best hitter for the Sox all year. The 900-run plateau, surpassed just seven times in franchise history, was supposedly going to be shattered by mid-September. Instead, Boston now has some work to do just to reach 700.
The fact that several guys are performing well below career norms means there will be some hot streaks. The fact that the league is the way it is means that these guys should not necessarily be compared to their career norms. Essentially, when it comes to the Red Sox offense, it might be time to lower expectations, not because of who they are, but because of when they play.
It is no coincidence that the Sox’ one and only hot streak thus far coincided with several shutdown performances by the pitching staff. The starters posted a 0.88 ERA during one 9-game span that saw the team go 8-1. Now two days into May, however, we still await that moment when the high-powered offense puts the team on its back in a similar fashion. That wait may go on for some time. Such is life in 2011, when even a squad filled with speed, power, experience and the pedigree to dominate is rendered rather mediocre more often than not.
Do you think it is time to lower expectations for the Red Sox because of the way league is? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.