Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, August 16, 2007

POWER OUTAGE

With a quarter of the season remaining, Red Sox fans and management are still waiting for the sleeping giant that was supposed to be the Red Sox offense to awaken.

How often have we heard people say that Manny, Papi, and JD Drew are going to come around any time now and start producing runs? Stop holding your breath. With three quarters of the season already played out, a clear pattern has been established. The heart of this offense isn't what it was expected to be.

At this point, Ramirez and Ortiz have combined for just 38 homers — one fewer than Alex Rodriguez. Add Drew to the mix, and the Sox alleged power trio have combined for a grand total of 44 home runs this year — just five more than A-Rod all by his lonesome.

And A-Rod has already driven in 114 runs. While we've gotten used to similar production from Ramirez and Ortiz, this year they're way off the mark. Ramirez has 79 RBI. Ortiz has 71 RBI. And Drew? Forget about it. Baseball's most overpaid and underachieving player has just 44 RBI. How pathetic.

Though the Sox remain in first place in the AL East, the offensive impotence of the 3-5 hitters has had consequences.

The Sox have scored one run or less 18 times this season. And in 38 games, the Sox have scored three or fewer runs, having an 11-31 record to show for it. When your best pitcher, Josh Beckett, has a 3.24 ERA and the other starters have ERA's ranging up to, and beyond, five runs per game, it's surprising that their record isn't worse in such contests. They clearly won't win too many games in this manner.

In April, the Sox scored three or fewer runs eight times and had a 1-7 record in those games. In May it again happened eight times, resulting in a 2-6 record. In June they scored three runs or less a staggering 12 times, leaving them with a 5-7 record in those situations. In July it was 10 games and had 1-9 results. So far this month they are 2-2 in these contests.

The reasons for Ramirez's power decline are unclear. At 35, has he suddenly and rapidly gotten old? In 55 at-bats during “late and close” situations — when a team is winning by a run, tied, or with the potential tying run on deck — Manny has driven in five runs, while striking out 14 times — or about once every four at-bats.

Ortiz's diminished power can attributed to his bad knee and, perhaps, his recently injured shoulder. Big Papi doesn't seem so big at the plate any more and hasn't fared much better than his teammate. Over 54 at-bats in “late and close” situations this season, he has also knocked in just five runs.

At this point, it's pretty well established that the Sox success so far this year can be attributed to their incredible starting rotation and exceptional bullpen. The Sox staff is the only one in the Majors with three starters having at least 13 wins apiece. And with a 3.79 ERA, the Sox have the second lowest ERA in baseball, following the Padres (3.46).

The offense has been the problem, and it is largely the reason the team is just 36-32 since the start of June. Case in point; the offense has scored a total of just four runs for Daisuke Matsuzaka in his last four losses. The team's blisteringly hot start in April and May — when they went a combined 36-16 — has masked just how mediocre they've been since then. It's taken them 2 1/2 months to win as many games as they did in the first two months, and they've had twice as many losses.

But here's the rub; the Sox offense has been better than you think it's been. Are you ready for this? The Boston offense has scored the fourth most runs in all of baseball this season. That's right, the Sox have driven in 613 runs, following the Yankees (710), the Tigers (678), and the Phillies (645). Why doesn't it seem that way?

It's largely because players like Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and rookie revelation Dustin Pedroia have stepped up and helped carry the load. Lowell could well be the team's offensive MVP, and Pedroia is a credible AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Even Julio Lugo, who — with his .238 batting average — hasn't been much more likely to get a hit than the rest of us this season, has driven in 57 runs.

Despite having an off season compared to his prodigious and prolific past, on Sunday Ramirez passed Jimmie Foxx for fifth place on the Red Sox career RBI list. Ramírez now has 791 RBIs in a Sox uniform and will likely remain in fifth place until his playing days with the Sox are over. Even if the Sox were to exercise the two option years on his contract ('09 & '10), it's hard to imagine him knocking 457 more runs to pass Bobby Doerr (1,247) on the all-time Sox list. Overall, Ramírez has 1,595 RBIs, tying him with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt for 30th on the all-time list. Ramirez is also in fifth place on the Red Sox all-time home run list, with 253 dingers. It seems certain that he'll never pass Dwight Evans (379) for fourth place.

Ramírez has a chance to become only the fourth player in history to drive in 100 or more runs in 10 straight seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Foxx (13), Lou Gehrig (13), and Al Simmons (11). Ramirez needs 21 RBI over the remaining 42 games to maintain his streak.

What could be in jeopardy is Ramírez's streak of 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons. He has done it nine straight times. Foxx holds the record at 12; A-Rod has now done it 10 straight seasons. Ramirez presently has 19 homers this year. He could get hot at any time — 10 homers in a month is not beyond him — and that streak could also remain intact.

That would be a good thing for the Red Sox and their World Series aspirations. Yes, it's been said countless times before that pitching wins championships. But in order for that to happen, the Sox offense needs to score at least five runs a game, considering that their AL-best pitching staff can be expected to allow at least four runs a game. Other teams should be so lucky.

Bobby Kielty and/or Jacoby Ellsbury might help, but neither will be the savior. Kielty was never that guy and Ellsbury isn't yet — if he'll ever be. No, for the Sox to have post-season success and hoist another World Series trophy, they'll have to hope for some of the old magic from Messieurs Ortiz, Ramirez, and.... JD Drew?

As I said, don't hold your breath.

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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