Sox only get one more chance to end slump
ANAHEIM, Calif. - At least the Red Sox hitters can share the burden. It’s hard to fault one of them when you can fault all of them.
The entire lineup is in a slump, and if someone - anyone - cannot end it, it will end their season not one weekend into the playoffs.
The Red Sox descended into an 0-2 hole in the ALDS last night because their offense, for the second straight game, was oppressed by the Angels’ pitching staff. The sheer data is bleak. The Sox have scored one run in 18 playoff innings this year and one in 26 postseason innings dating to last year.
This year, mostly against starters John Lackey and Jered Weaver, the Sox have mustered eight hits - six of them singles - while making 54 outs. Jacoby Ellsbury is the only player with two hits. His triple in fourth and Kevin Youkilis’s double in the ninth are the team’s only extra-base hits this postseason.
Pick a spot in the lineup. The 4-5 hitters, Youkilis and David Ortiz, are a combined 1 for 16 with five strikeouts. Mike Lowell is 0 for 7. All year long, even during slumps, one batter could halt a slump. It has not happened in the postseason.
“You look at the guys we have in that lineup, and we expect to score runs,’’ Jason Bay said. “You expect a hit here, a walk, a flare. But the reality is, we haven’t gotten it.’’
“Usually, you get one or two guys that kind of carries when guys don’t go well. I think that’s another testament to how they’ve been pitching. As a team, these last two games the pitching has been better than our hitting.’’
The Sox sputtered all season against frontline pitchers. Against the top 15 American League pitchers in ERA+, a stat that adjusts ERA for ballparks, the Red Sox hit .220 with a .266 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage. The league average against those pitchers was .248, .292, and .387.
Those struggles have reared in the playoffs against Lackey and Weaver, both of whom qualified as one of the elite 15 starters. Lackey and Weaver have been excellent, but not as unassailable as the Sox have made them look for 48 hours.
“I don’t want to take to away from the way they’ve been pitching - they’ve done a good job,’’ Lowell said. “I even look at my at-bats, and there are pitches I feel like I should have driven, and I’m flying out to right field. There’s a combination. They haven’t been perfect.’’
The Sox maintained their approach has not changed since Game 1, and it does not need an overhaul. They aren’t chasing balls out of the strike at an atypical or alarming rate. Simply, the Angels have not made many mistakes. (“I haven’t seen one pitch to hit in this series,’’ said Dustin Pedroia, who is 1 for 8.) When they have, the Sox have not taken advantage.
“It’s probably a little bit of both,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “They certainly have executed very, very well. [Weaver] executed his pitches, and we looked like we started to pull a little but too much. We didn’t square up on the balls.’’
At times this season, when the Sox struggled to score, they stranded a confluence of base runners. Against the Angels, there have not even been base runners to strand. The Angels pitching has left the Sox searching.
“If I could go up there every time and get a hit, I’d love to go do that,’’ Youkilis said. “I’d love to tell you what I’m doing wrong. But I can’t put a finger on it. You hit the ball sometimes, and you get out. It’s baseball. That’s all I can say.’’
Tomorrow, the Sox will be back in their home park, where they scored 5.9 runs per game compared with 4.8 on the road. Maybe that will help. The Sox might not have any other ideas to spark their offense.
And the problem may so simple, they don’t need any other ideas, except for one.
“Hit the damn ball,’’ Ortiz said. “What else?’’