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Red Sox offense isn't where it needs to be yet

Boston's pitching is a problem, but the Red Sox offense hasn't performed like it was supposed to either.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Before the season even began, many felt the 2015 Red Sox had a fatal flaw. A starting rotation full of question marks was mocked and criticized, and trade rumors involving Cole Hamels were tossed around with reckless abandon as a result.

Even still, Boston's roster had one saving grace: a deep lineup buttressed by the free-agent signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. At the very least, everyone felt the Red Sox would score loads of runs, even if their starters gave up plenty themselves.

However, just over one month into the season, the Red Sox offense hasn't been the juggernaut that many expected. Sure, Boston has scored the fifth-most runs in the American League coming into Wednesday, but that's a little misleading. Sixteen of the club's runs scored have been unearned, and over their past five contests, the Red Sox have managed just 12 runs.

The pitching has been a mess, overshadowing everything else during the team's bumpy start to the campaign. But Boston's offensive struggles haven't helped either, especially when Wade Miley and Justin Masterson gave the Red Sox two solid starts last weekend against the Yankees, only to see the offense sputter.

Through 27 games this season, the Red Sox lineup has managed a 96 wRC+, which means they've hit roughly four percent worse than league average. That's not the type of performance anyone was expecting.

Why, exactly, is the offense underperforming?

The first answer is that it's early, and we shouldn't expect some of Boston's hitters to keep struggling like they have.

Let me say that again: It's early! More than 80 percent of the season still remains, and the Red Sox have a lot of hitters with strong track records. If Hanley Ramirez truly isn't going to spend any time on the DL, then the lineup shouldn't suffer too much from his injury.

The biggest problem for the Red Sox offense right now is poor performance with runners in scoring position. If that sounds like a common refrain, you're right. Last year's club was woeful with men on base, batting just .237/.320/.365 with runners in scoring position and posting the lowest batting average of any team in the AL in such situations. That performance worsened with two outs, as Boston hit a team-wide .204/.324/.313 with two outs and men in scoring position on the way to one of the worst offensive performances in recent franchise history.

Mookie Betts' two homers on Tuesday came without RISP(Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

One year later, the Red Sox have hardly been better with runners in scoring position. The club's lineup is currently batting .216/.292/.396 in those situations, and the likes of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz have been particularly culpable of late. As a whole, the Red Sox haven't had too many problems getting men on base (their team-wide .324 OBP is fifth-best in the AL), but driving in runs continues to be an issue.

Considering all the talent in Boston's lineup, such a poor performance with men in scoring position is unlikely to continue. Pedroia looks better offensively than he has in years, for instance, but is currently batting .120/.207/.160 with runners in scoring position, the type of poor numbers that simply won't last.

In addition, the Red Sox have been the victims of some misfortune on offense in the first month-plus of the season. The club's .266 BABIP is the fifth-worst in all of baseball, and while that doesn't tell the whole story necessarily, it does indicate Boston's bats are in for some positive regression in the weeks ahead.

More specifically, a glance at some individual performances demonstrates where the club's offense has been particularly snake-bitten. Mookie Betts' .244 BABIP is weighing down his overall production, even as he continues to come through in big moments like he did Tuesday night. Mike Napoli's .182 BABIP is the third-worst in baseball (min. 80 plate appearances), but he's striking out less and making more contact in the zone than he ever has in a Red Sox uniform. Similar statements can be made about Ortiz and Daniel Nava.

Even Hanley, despite all his home runs, is having poor luck with balls in play. His current .229 BABIP is more than 100 percentage points below his career average. When he starts adding more singles and doubles to those home runs, watch out.

All of this serves as a good reminder that the offense's outlook can change in just a matter of days. This isn't going to be the same story as 2014, when injuries, a lack of depth and struggles from youngsters gaining their first MLB experience torpedoed the Red Sox's chances. When healthy, the first six hitters in Boston's lineup remain a tough challenge for any pitcher to get through unscathed.

That Boston's starters are also enduring their own brand of misfortune means the club's offense must carry a larger burden, something it has failed to do over the past week or so. The Red Sox are underperforming throughout their roster; that's hard to argue with.

Still, they aren't staring up at some unassailable deficit in the AL East, and every division rival will have its own weaknesses to deal with as the season continues. The Red Sox are a deep team with tons of veteran talent that will probably need some pitching help at some point if they want to contend.

The offense, though, is due for some improvement. The last couple weeks have been grim to watch at times, but that doesn't mean the Red Sox have forgotten how to score runs.