All of these assessments have been uttered during Boston's miserable September. More and more, the target of the team's deficiencies has been on that one area most overlooked: baserunning.
The Red Sox made several more outs on the bases during a doubleheader split in New York on Sunday, reinforcing the fact that they've struggled in that unheralded but oh-so-important aspect of the game.
Boston has the type of lineup that can cover up those mistakes. But when everything is going wrong, they become glaring issues.
There was the Carl Crawford caught stealing with no outs in the eighth inning last night, a semi-questionable decision given the lumber due up behind him. Joey Gathright, sent in as a pinch runner, was picked off one inning earlier.
Jacoby Ellsbury was picked off in the first inning of the opener Sunday, dropping his stolen-base percentage to 71.7 (it was 85 percent over his first four seasons). And you may recall Ellsbury getting caught trying to steal third by Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann in the fifth inning of a loss to Tampa Bay two weekends ago, a play that prompted Red Sox manager Terry Francona to say that Ellsbury was "trying to do too much" and that "it wasn't necessary."
The play took the bat out of Dustin Pedroia's hands and kept the Rays in front 4-2. They would win 4-3.
Going back toward the start of the season, who can forget Darnell McDonald's big gaffe?
That's just a small sample size, but it speaks to an overarching issue that certainly hasn't helped matters down the stretch. In fact, among those who quantify things beyond just stolen bases and runs scored, the Red Sox rank as the worst baserunning team in the majors.
According to FanGraphs.com's Ultimate Base Running (UBR), Boston has hurt itself on the bases to the tune of a negative 14.1 runs this year, more than any other team. This is a metric that gauges opportunity for advancement on the bases, and the success or lack of success therein. It does not dock or credit players based on their stolen-base percentage, so some of the examples above don't apply. What it says is that in addition to some shoddy decisions in that department, the Sox do little to help themselves with advancements on the bases that other teams might.
The Rangers, who have tormented Boston on the bases in the past two years, are the top team in the majors in this category. Second in the American League is Toronto, which has been very aggressive and successful under new manager John Farrell. As you might expect, Tampa Bay is right up there, ranking just behind the Jays. The Sox know all too well the damage the Rays can do in that department.
The primary issue, if the numbers mean much, lies in the fact that Boston has two plodding sluggers -– Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz -– in the middle of the lineup. Both rank well below average in UBR. Surprisingly, Pedroia is -0.8 and Crawford is -0.4.
This is one area the Red Sox miss Kevin Youkilis. Not known as a burner, Youkilis is a very good decision-maker on the bases, ranking on the plus side for every season since 2006.
Boston also ranked last in this category in 2005. The -14.1 mark is its worst since that year, and one possible reason for some poor play down the stretch.
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