The Boston Red Sox have hit a low point. They’ve lost four straight games heading into a series against the Toronto Blue Jays starting Tuesday. It’s the longest losing streak of the John Farrell era. Boston has lost five out of six – and has lost the good vibrations emanating from Fenway Park over the first week of May.
It’s a critical time. No one wants to panic this early in the season, but the team’s lack of production is becoming a major concern. Boston scored just three runs in three games while being swept at Fenway by Detroit for the first time since 1983.
It was an anemic weekend of baseball for the home team’s lineup. And the Red Sox didn’t even face Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
The old cliche in baseball is that you spend the first two months of the season figuring out what your team needs, the next two months addressing those issues, and the final two months fighting for a playoff spot.
It’s clear the Red Sox need help at the plate. They’re getting on base but not scoring runs. For the past 10 years we’ve heard that on-base percentage is the new batting average. This team is proving sabermetricians wrong.
Boston’s .330 on-base percentage is third-best in the American League. Yet its .243 batting average is third-worst. They’re reminding us all that at some point someone has to hit the ball to drive in runs. And despite what the spreadsheets might tell you, scoring runs is still the point of the game.
“We’re still looking for a key base hit with runners in scoring position,” Farrell said after Sunday’s 6-2 loss to Detroit. “I know that’s a recurring theme.”
Last October, the Sox looked overmatched by Detroit’s pitching in the AL championship series, posting a puny .202 batting average.
But Boston won the series because of key hits: David Ortiz hit a grand slam in Game 2, Mike Napoli homered in Game 3 after striking out in each of his first six ALCS at-bats, and Shane Victorino hit a grand slam in Game 6.
That’s a tough way to survive – hoping a hitter can take advantage of the one chance he has to turn a game around. The Sox thought they could carry that magic into this season. It hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
They’ve been waiting for young hitters like Jackie Bradley, Jr (.205 batting average) and Will Middlebrooks (.197) to come around. Now Middlebrooks is on the disabled list with a broken finger. Their outfielders have combined to hit five homers – three from Jonny Gomes and two from Grady Sizemore. Most nights only one of them is in the lineup, meaning two-thirds of the outfield is homerless after 43 games.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have moved ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East standings after taking two of three in Texas. Farrell’s former team has won 10 of its last 15 games and leads the league in extra-base hits. They’re a decidedly more old-school team than the Sox, with the AL’s best slugging percentage.
After Sunday’s game, Farrell said the Sox have to be better “in all phases.” There are pitching concerns, with Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz still looking to establish consistency.
But that wasn’t the difference over the weekend. Averaging a run a game won’t lead to many wins. The Red Sox must start turning base runners into runs if they want to turn this season around.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.