Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, June 30, 2007

OFFENSIVE INEPTITUDE

RIGHT NOW, THE SOX OFFENSE IS SIMPLY OFFENSIVE

The Red Sox offense has been sleep walking its way through long stretches of this season. For a team that led the majors in runs for three straight seasons (2003-2005), 2007 has been a disappointment and a surprise. Certainly, we all expected more.

This year, compared to other AL teams, the Sox offense ranks sixth in runs scored; sixth in RBI; sixth in hits; seventh in home runs; sixth in total bases; and fifth in batting.

The Sox 2-1 victory over the Rangers last night was no fluke. The offense is squarely middle-of-the-pack in almost every offensive category. Low scoring affairs have become customary this season. Here's a prime example; in Daisuke Matsuzaka’s past five starts, the Red Sox have scored the grand total of five runs.

The Sox have scored only 21 runs in their last seven games, and have scored two runs or fewer a staggering 12 times in their 26 games so far this month. They are 7-16 when scoring three runs or fewer.

Oddly, the Sox have hit just 31 homers at Fenway Park this year. And whether home or on the road, the Sox have gotten into the bad habit of putting runners in scoring position and then leaving them stranded.

What gives? What's become of the offensive juggernaut we'd come to know and love over the past few years? The Sox were the first team since 1951-54 Brooklyn Dodgers to lead the majors in runs for three consecutive seasons, and the first American League team since the 1936-39 Yankees to score at least 900 runs in at least three consecutive seasons.

The truth is, the decline began last season. In 2006, the Red Sox hit .269 for the season, which was third worst in the American League. And after three straight seasons of leading the majors in runs, they finished sixth in that category. The falloff in production was particularly stark after the All Star break; the Sox ranked last in the league in batting average, last in slugging, 10th in on-base percentage, and ahead of only the Devil Rays in runs.

Part of the problem the last two years was a very uneven offense. In 2006, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez accounted for 30 percent of the team's RBIs and 45 percent of its home runs. And in 2005 the pair were responsible for driving in nearly a third of the team's runs. This year the team hoped to have more balance, and they've gotten it. But instead of other players stepping up to match the production of Ortiz and Ramirez, unfortunately the Dynamic Duo have seen their production drop to something closer to the rest of their teammates.

So far this season, the two sluggers have been rather underwhelming. Ortiz has just 13 homers and 48 RBI, while Ramirez has just 11 homers and 43 RBI. Those are not the kind of numbers we've come to expect from these two. Neither is on pace for even 30 homers or 100 RBI this year.

Consider this; Mike Lowell not only has more homers than Ramirez, but also a higher slugging percentage, a higher batting average, more doubles, and more total bases. And just as unexpectedly, Lowell leads the team with 54 RBI.

But highlighting the Red Sox offensive inefficiencies so far this year is the fact that Julio Lugo has a major league-worst batting average of just .190, which is, at best, very disappointing.

One key component from the offensive "Wonder Years" that can't be overlooked is the absence of former hitting coach Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson. Under his tutelage, the Sox offense thrived. In each of Papa Jack's first two years with the club, the Sox led the majors in runs, batting average, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging.

This season the Sox have a new hitting coach, Dave Magadan, and while all the offensive woes certainly can't be laid at his feet -- since the decline began in the second half last year -- his approach doesn't seem to be helping.

However, while a coach can instruct and provide tips, ultimately the hitters have to hit. And right now, the Sox hitters just aren't going that. The Red Sox are 13-14 in their last 26 games and have benefitted from the early lead they built, which, despite their recent ineptitude, still stands at 10 1/2 games.

They may win the AL East, but to win the Pennant and the World Series they'll have to do a whole lot better. In order for that to happen, they'll need the full complement of their offensive fire power to get it done.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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