Last night pretty much killed whatever hope for the Red Sox any of us had left. A truly disheartening loss to the Yankees will do that, especially when it drops the team four games under .500 and seven and a half back in the wild card. Given the way this team has played, it's actually kind of remarkable we've stuck with it for as long as we have.
One part of the sticking around, for me anyway, is that I came to adulthood in the age of internet baseball, where run differential is king. Boston's scored more runs than they've allowed (+34 even after last night's loss), generally a sign that they're a better team than their record would indicate. If they were playing to their run differential, they'd be 64-58, one good weekend against Baltimore from a playoff spot. So why haven't they done as well as their run totals would suggest?
Part of the answer, I figured, was something like what happened last September. Last year, in their month of utter collapse, Boston found itself outscored by 26 runs overall. That's bad, of course, but not necessarily 7-20 horrible. But as you may recall, many of the runs they did score came in bunches. In the seven games Boston did win that month, they scored 79 runs, or a little over 11 per game. In their 20 losses, they scored 67 runs, which works out to 3.35 per. All month Boston would limp along, pausing once a week to unleash hell upon some unlucky pitcher, and then go back to limping.
With that in mind, I took a spin through the Baseball-Reference Play Index, to see where and how the Sox have been scoring their runs this year, and I found a couple of small things that were kind of fascinating, and while I haven't really figured out how to explain them, I think they shed some light on how the Sox have wound up where they are.
One that stood out, since it's felt like every single loss is a one-run heartbreaker (aside from the occasional whupping by Texas or New York) is that the Sox record in one-run games isn't eye-gougingly terrible. They're 12-14 in one-run games. For a bit of perspective, New York's 15-17. Texas is 16-15. For that matter, the 2007 Red Sox were 22-28 in one-run contests. It's not the record in one-run games that's killing Boston. Although of course Baltimore's staggering 23-6 record in such games is certainly the main thing driving their defiance of run-differential gravity. Baltimore's 8-4 record against the Sox also explains why we all want to slap Buck Showalter.
So as to the idea of runs scoring in bunches: Boston's scored six or more runs 47 times this year, and they're 39-8 in those games. They've scored eight or more 23 times, and are 19-4. In the 75 games where they scored five or fewer, they're 20-55. This doesn't necessarily strike me as unusual, given the Sox' generally lousy pitching this season. It would make sense that five runs wouldn't quite be enough when Josh Beckett is leaving curveballs hanging, or Aaron Cook's sinker stops sinking, or Jon Lester gets into "it's all the ump's fault" mode.
What nearly made me fall out of my chair when I saw it, though, is the Red Sox' record when allowing six or more runs, something they've done 39 times. Allowing six or more runs is pretty bad, clearly, every time your pitching staff does that is like one more day of John Lackey. But the Sox do have that thumping offense, and that ought to buy them at least a respectable record even when the pitching's off. So what's their record when allowing six runs or more?
I did a bit of scouting around to see how other heavy-offense teams have done in similar situations this year. Texas is 9-27 in such games, New York is 5-26. So, as would make sense, winning when your pitching isn't up to snuff is hard all around. But 4-35 is just brutal to look at. Whatever hope we've been holding out has, I think, focused on the idea that even with lousy pitching, getting just enough out of Lester or Buchholz while the offense goes to town would be enough to carry the team on a run. The more one looks at how Boston's actually been playing, the more that hope goes away.