BOSTON — If the Red Sox’s offense stared itself in the mirror right now, it wouldn’t see the same unit that produced an MLB-best 853 runs (5.3 runs per game) last season. But it also shouldn’t be mortified by its appearance.
The 9-11 Red Sox have endured struggles this season, and their inability to produce with runners on base has been a big reason why. Boston has begun to solve those problems to some extent despite dropping a 7-6 decision to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, and it really was just a matter of time given the Red Sox’s willingness to stick to the approach that worked so well for them in 2013.
“We’ve gone up against some very good pitching. We’ve run up some pitch counts. We’ve gotten into the bullpen against (Chris) Tillman the other night, (Chris) Sale over in Chicago,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Monday’s game. “And it’s that same consistent approach throughout the lineup that we’ve been able to use to our advantage.
“I can’t say it’s exactly like it was last October, when seemingly we were getting no-hit every night through five innings, but we found a way to get into a bullpen around that seventh-, eighth-inning range. (But) we’re just putting up more consistent at-bats, tougher at-bats (recently) to drive that pitch count up.”
The Red Sox were no-hit until the fourth inning Monday, but they strung together some good at-bats against Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen in the fifth, striking for three runs while cutting their deficit in half. Chen threw 93 pitches over five frames — 29 in the fifth — and Boston was able to get into the Baltimore bullpen and continue rallying before eventually falling just short in the ninth inning.
The Red Sox finished 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight men on base Monday, so clearly, Boston still needs to capitalize on its scoring chances with more regularity. But the Red Sox’s ability to work counts, generate baserunners and ultimately make life difficult on opposing bullpens — a strategy that worked last season — suggests better (and perhaps more consistent) times could lie ahead.
The biggest hurdle for the Red Sox — other than simply producing timely hits — is getting things together offensively earlier in games. The Red Sox frequently have been forced to play from behind this season, which isn’t an easy task despite Boston proving several times last season and this season that no deficit is insurmountable.
“Last year, sometimes we would fall behind. But four runs can’t turn into five (and) five can’t turn into six. The hole can’t get too deep,” catcher David Ross said after Monday’s loss, in which the Red Sox nearly overcame a six-run deficit. “That’s what we talk about — a lot of damage control (and) limit the big innings. A six spot (in the first inning) is not where we want to be, and we still almost came back. That’s the kind of confidence we have in the dugout.”
The Red Sox got off to a hot start last season and didn’t fall into too many ruts, so it’s somewhat surprising to see Boston sitting two games below .500 through 20 games this season. But the slow start by no means is a reason to panic, especially as it pertains to the inconsistency with which Boston has produced runs this season.
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