The Red Sox are a team that is built around their offense. We knew that coming into the season, we knew it in the first half when they were leading the charge to lead the division, and we’ve known it in the second half when their waxing and waning performances were a big reason why the divisional hopes went up in smoke before our eyes. The pitching has certainly won them some games, and it’s been much better than most — certainly I — expected. But this is a team that ranks fourth in runs while sitting outside the top 10 in ERA. The fact is, as Bryan recently wrote, this team is going to go as far as the offense will take them.
And for these last four games, a crucial point in the season, the offense has not taken them anywhere. The way things have shaken out in said games, it’s been easy for the offensive woes to slide under the radar a bit. The pitching has struggled at important times, whether it be Nathan Eovaldi on Friday, the bullpen on Saturday and Sunday, or Chris Sale in a big sixth inning on Tuesday. There has been bad defense, such as Bobby Dalbec letting an easy foul ball drop in or Rafael Devers not handling a ball in that sixth inning on Tuesday. Some managing decisions have been questionable, like turning to Darwinzon Hernandez on Saturday or leaving Chris Sale in on Tuesday for the third time through. (For whatever it’s worth, I was totally fine with the latter decision, though there was some first- and second-guessing from others.) And there has been some bad umpiring, mostly in the form of Joe West on Sunday.
Those are the sorts of turning points in a game that get the most ink, and we’ve certainly put some of our focus here at OTM on those moments when talking about the games. Results swung on those moments. But the truth is they were only in those positions because the offense couldn’t get it done. When Eovaldi was getting hit around, the offense couldn’t keep pace. (To be fair, against Gerrit Cole we can give at least something of a pass.) On Saturday and Sunday, the team held late leads, but that was due to the starting pitching as the offense only provided minimal wiggle room. That was also the case on Tuesday, where the Red Sox couldn’t get multiple baserunners in the same inning against a historically bad pitching staff that entered Tuesday’s action with a 5.84 ERA, and against a starter making his first big-league appearance since the middle of June.
Obviously we’re talking about a four-game stretch, so none of the numbers we’re going to talk about below are going to provide any statistical significance. Rather, it’s just a disappointment and something that cannot happen for an offense-oriented team fighting for their playoff lives. Over these last four games, the Red Sox as a team have hit just .214/.271/.344. They do have five homers, but only two doubles. I’m certainly not a “home runs are rally killers” guy, but if you’re going to string together productive innings you need some doubles in there to keep the line moving and bring in those who reached on singles and walks.
And really, some of these issues are coming down to some of the most important hitters, whether it be the true core or some of the players on whom they’ve been leaning of late. For the former group, it’s Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez, who have combined to go 3-29 during this losing streak. Bogaerts in particular has been a mess, going 1-16 with six strikeouts and no walks. And to make it all the more frustrating, the last three of these losses have come with left-handed starters on the mound for the other side. These are matchups where Bogaerts and Martinez shouldn’t just be contributing. They should be leading the way to victory.
And while I certainly don’t place as much blame on these other two guys’ shoulders, Bobby Dalbec and José Iglesias have struggled in these games as well. Dalbec has again struggled to make contact, striking out in seven of his 12 plate appearances. He has just one hit over these four games, though to be fair it is a home run. Iglesias has been a sparkplug since coming to the Red Sox, but he’s quietly been slowing down, and he has three hits — all singles — and no walks in these four games. Clearly a significantly bigger chunk of the blame can go to Bogaerts and Martinez, but Dalbec and Iglesias have been big parts of any September success, and losing them is clearly hurting.
As I said above, we’re talking about four games. I’m certainly not going to say these games mean we can expect more of the same, particularly from Bogaerts and Martinez. All I can say is that what we’ve seen has been unacceptable, from those two and really from the lineup as a whole. Baseball is full of ebbs and flows, and if players were working strong at bats and just ending up with outs, that’d be one thing. But when you have the most important at bats lasting one or two pitches with weak contact coming as a result, that’s just not going to cut it. This lineup, and its core in particular, needs to show some signs of life, and needs to step it up. There’s no more time to lose.