Can a team simply score enough runs on a nightly basis to win the majority of their baseball games?
For a period of time, yes.
Over the long haul, no.
That’s the tough lesson being learned by the 2016 Boston Red Sox.
During May, the Red Sox led the American League in runs scored, hits, home runs, batting average and ops. Basically total dominance. Not surprisingly the Red Sox were 18-10 in May, and ascended to the top of the American League East.
Halfway through the month of June, the Red Sox are seventh in runs scored, eighth in home runs, eleventh in total bases, fifth in batting average and sixth in ops.
That’s not a total collapse, but it is most certainly a slowdown. That type of slowdown does not have to impact a team’s win-loss record, but it will unless a team’s pitching staff can make up the difference.
The 2016 Boston Red Sox do not have a pitching staff that can effectively make up the difference. The Red Sox have outscored their opponents 63-59 this month, but their win-loss record is only 4-7.
The real concern is that the current Red Sox squad is probably more representative of what this 2016 squad truly is, than the unstoppable murderer’s row lineup that we saw in May.
Travis Shaw isn’t the awful hitter he’s been this month, but perhaps “mayor of ding-dong city” was a slightly premature proclamation.
Jackie Bradley Jr is clearly not the sub-.200 hitter he was for the first year and a half of his big league career, but he’s also not the triple crown candidate that hit in 29 consecutive games during part of May.
Hanley Ramirez was hitting .320 on May 17. As of Wednesday his average is down 50 points to .270.
Do not mistake any of these drop-offs as indicators that the Red Sox offense is bad. It isn’t.
Xander Bogaerts is about as good a right-handed hitter as there is in the majors. He’s hitting .355 and has shown few signs that he will suffer any sort of dramatic drop off. Mookie Betts might not have quite as much power as he’s shown so far this season, but his .289 batting average is by no means irregular.
David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are both experienced veterans. They’ll run a little hot or a little cold at times, but on the whole they’ll continue to be guys that opposing pitchers would prefer to avoid.
It isn’t really about the offense for the Red Sox.
It is about the pitching. It always has been, and unless things change, it will continue to be.
Roenis Elias will get a start on Friday. Maybe he’s good, maybe he’s not, but if anyone thinks he’s a longterm solution to the Red Sox pitching issues, they’re deceiving themselves.
As dominant as David Price was Tuesday night, he still allowed three runs, and all three runs came courtesy of the home run. Price has been better as of late, but he can’t possibly do it alone. It is encouraging that Price holds himself to such high standards. Following Tuesday’s loss he told WBZ News Radio 1030 that he wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m better than three runs, I know that,” said Price. “That’s what I’ve done my entire career. If you told me whenever I get to the field I can have eight innings and three runs, I’m not going to take that. I’m going to take my chance to go out there and put up nine zeroes.”
That’s the right attitude for an “ace” type of starting pitcher, but as of mid-June Price hasn’t been the team’s ace.
Steven Wright has been the best starter, and he continues to impress, but after that things get really murky.
Rick Porcello is good, but he’s not going to shut down every offense he faces. He’ll have his exceptional nights and his bad ones, and a lot of in-betweens. Eduardo Rodriguez is a young starter coming off an injury. In other words, expect the unexpected.
The fifth starter is completely unknown. The Red Sox have done a nice job of establishing who they do not want as their fifth starter. Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz, Henry Owens, Sean O’Sullivan.
If Steven Wright is your best starting pitcher (and make no mistake about it, as of today he has been the Red Sox best starter.) Then that’s actually a bit of a problem.
Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles was frustrating, and blame could easily be put more on the shoulders of the offense, than those of the pitching staff.
That’s not an accurate representation of the problems as a whole.
The Red Sox will score more than two runs most nights. The problem is that with the current pitching staff, they’re also going to give up more than three runs. As long as that continues to be the real problem, this Red Sox team will continue to perform like a team that could maybe squeak into the playoffs, but will most certainly not be able to win many games in October.