If the Red Sox expect to be in the running for a playoff spot in the second half of the season, they need to improve in one crucial area: their record in low-scoring games.
Including their ninth-inning, 3-2 setback in Oakland Tuesday, the Sox are just 4-29 in games in which they have scored three or fewer runs. This translates out to a .121 winning percentage, one of the worst such marks in the majors. It also points to a key deficiency on the year's team—top-notch starting pitching.
Unlike past years—when the Red Sox always had at least one clear ace who could match up against top opposing starters—the inconsistency on this year's Boston staff has made for many frustrating nights. Even when a pitcher has a strong start, like Jon Lester Tuesday, he seldom makes it through seven innings.
Adding to the angst is that the Sox still have one of baseball's best offensive clubs overall, ranking third in the AL in average (.268), slugging (.444) and OPS (.772) through Monday. They have won their share of 9-4 and 15-5 games, but have struggled along at around .500 all year because of their low-scoring losses.
June offers a perfect microcosm of the problem. While the Red Sox had a decent 15-12 record overall for the month, they were 1-9 when scoring three or less runs—including 1-0 and 3-2 losses to the lowly Mariners last week.
During a 1-5 homestand against Baltimore and Washington earlier in June, Boston lost games of 2-1, 4-2 and 4-3. They were swept by the Nationals—who got excellent starting performances from their terrific trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. The Red Sox got decent pitching as well during that series, but it wasn't quite good enough.
Boston fans have been spoiled for most of the past 25 years. Even when the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs, they had a dominating pitcher who could win the 2-1 and 4-2 games. First it was Roger Clemens, then Pedro Martinez, and then Curt Schilling. To a slightly lesser degree, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have fit this bill the last couple of seasons, but this has been an ace-less year.
Beckett (4-7), Lester (5-5) and the demoted Daniel Bard (5-6) have all been disappointments; and while Clay Buchholz (8-2) and Felix Doubront (8-4) both have winning records, their ERAs of 5.53 and 4.42 make it clear they have been the beneficiary of very strong run support.
Although closer Alfredo Aceves blew Tuesday's game, for the most part Boston's surprisingly efficient relief corps have kept them from falling even further into mediocrity. There is not much these guys can do, however, if they usually get the ball with the Sox already behind.
After the end of this woeful West Coast string, Boston has four big games with the AL East-leading Yankees heading into the all-star break. Somebody on the starting staff needs to step up against New York and in the weeks that follow if the Red Sox want to be playing come October.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at amazon.com and his Red Sox reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @saulwizz.