Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, August 30, 2007

OFFENSIVE ANEMIA

The Red Sox offensive outburst against the White Sox last weekend was an anomaly. The Red Sox scored an astonishing 46 runs in the four-game series while the hapless White Sox could only muster a meager seven runs.

Then came a quick return to reality.

In the three-game disappointment against the Yankees, the Red Sox scored a combined 6 runs on just 13 hits.

But none of this should be surprising.

The lower-than-normal power numbers of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have been well-documented. Ortiz hit his 25th home run of the season last night against Roger Clemens, simultaneously breaking up Clemens’ no-hitter and shutout bid. But with just over a month left in the season, Ortiz has less than half the 54 homers he hit last season when he set the Red Sox single-season record.

And though Ramirez hit his 20th home run on Tuesday night -- becoming just the 12th player to hit at least 20 longballs in 13 consecutive seasons -- his nine-year streak of 30 homer, 100 RBI seasons appears in jeopardy. With 86 RBI, he seems poised to reach the 100 plateau once again. But his recent oblique injury may have eliminated whatever chance he had at reaching 30 homers this year. Since 1995, Ramirez has never hit fewer than 26 homers in a season.

But the focus on Ortiz and Ramirez has somewhat obscured the fact that other Sox hitters are also underperforming this season.

Coco Crisp and JD Drew, two-thirds of the Sox outfield, have combined for just 12 home runs – the same number as Jason Varitek. But it’s not just an absence of power that has limited the two Sox outfielders. Crisp is batting just .268 with 121 hits, while Drew is batting .260 with just 100 hits. To make matters worse, Crisp has only 35 extra-base hits and Drew just 33.

The corner outfield and infield positions are traditionally the power producers. That’s not the case for the Sox this year. Ramirez and Drew have combined for 27 home runs, while Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis have combined for 31. Considering that 11 different Major League hitters have launched 27 homers by themselves, this lack of Sox power is rather glaring.

Only five Red Sox hitters have reached double digits in home runs (Ortiz – 25; Ramirez – 20; Lowell – 17; Youkilis – 14; Varitek – 12), and they’re likely to be the only ones who will. Cumulatively, Sox hitters have combined for just 131 homers this year. By comparison, the Brewers, who lead baseball in this category, have blasted 180.

All of this is surprising to those of us who’d become accustomed to a team that slugged its way to victory year after year. The Red Sox led the majors in runs for three straight seasons, from 2003-2005.

Measured against other MLB teams this year, the Sox are fourth in runs, fourth in RBI, seventh in hits, seventh in slugging, eighth in total bases, and 19th in home runs. But this last statistic is clearly the most glaring. For decades, the Red Sox have been a premier power hitting team. Not this year.

However, the Sox aren’t just suffering a power outage this season; they’re also suffering through some uninspired – and uninspiring -- hitting as well.

Though the Red Sox .278 team batting average is tied with the Braves for fifth best in baseball, it is buoyed by the exceptional and consistent hitting of Lowell (.324), Ortiz (.322), and stellar rookie Dustin Pedroia (.316). And though Ramirez is hitting below his career average while Youkilis is suffering a second half slump -- just as he did last year, both are hitting at least .290. But after that a dramatic falloff begins.

Take a look at these batting averages: Varitek - .264; Alex Cora - .254; Julio Lugo - .238; Doug Mirabelli - .212; Eric Hinske - .201.

Ramirez, a career .313 hitter, is batting .292 this year. Youkilis, who was hitting .328 before the All-Star break, has been in a freefall and is batting just .225 since the break, dropping his average to .290. Before the break, Youkilis had just 40 strikeouts, but with just over a month to go in the second half, he’s already struck out an additional 44 times. And the first baseman had 147 total bases in the first half but has just 64 since then.

The 2007 Red Sox are built on pitching, and clearly that is how they will have to win. Pitching usually beats hitting, but as the Yankees have just proven, that is not always the case. Having the second lowest ERA and the second most shutouts in baseball didn’t make a difference for the Sox in this series. Though the Boston staff has surrendered the third fewest hits and fifth fewest home runs (second fewest in the AL), those distinctions didn’t help against the Yankees.

The Sox could very well face the Yankees again in the playoffs -- should they get there. There are no guarantees this year; there are just three games separating New York, Seattle and Detroit for the Wild Card. The Yankees will surely out-slug the Sox, and the Sox best hope is having superior pitching. But despite what most of us have believed all year long, that is not a given. We’ve just witnessed the Yankees limit the Sox to just six runs over three games, while scoring 14 themselves.

It would be nice if the Sox offense could find a way to come alive and show some vigor before the season ends. But at this point waiting for Manny Ramirez, JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Doug Mirabelli and Eric Hinske to find the pop that's been missing from their bats may be a lost cause.

Once the playoffs begin, anything can happen. Just consider the 2006 Cardinals. The Sox will have to ride their rotation and bullpen into and through the playoffs. But if the old axiom “pitching wins championships” proves to be true again this year, the San Diego Padres will be hoisting the World Series trophy in October.

Or maybe the Sox hitters will finally find a magic elixir. Do you believe in magic?



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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