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Like others, A's have Sox' number

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 14, 2009 09:35 AM

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- There really is just one question: When? When is it officially time to start wondering? When does this become something more than just an ill-timed anomaly? When does a slump become a baseline performance?

Two more days? Two weeks? Two months?

The Red Sox lost another game last night, this one an 8-2 decision to the Oakland A's in the opener of a three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum. In the bigger picture, there is still nothing to worry about. In the shorter term, from Mike Lowell to David Ortiz to Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox have done little thus far to answer so many of the questions they took into the 2009 season.

Given their collection of talent and recent history, the Red Sox deserve the benefit of the doubt. We know they can play better than this. They know it, too. There is a high probability that we all forget this as soon as the Sox start stringing together quality at-bats and victories, which they are capable of doing at any moment. Had this season-opening streak taken place in June rather than April, we would chalk it up to nothing more than a meaningless midseason slide.

"I think it's more of a keep-the-line-moving mentality, and we've got to get to that point," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We'll just keep battling, keep fighting."

In the interim, here is the disappointing picture from the first week, painted by the numbers:

6 Since Opening Day, innings in which Red Sox pitchers have taken the mound with a lead, including one last night, after Kevin Youkilis opened the second with a homer. Sox starter Jon Lester promptly gave up five runs in the bottom half, during which he allowed a homer, double, and three singles while also hitting a batter.

"I'm sure you guys are getting tired of me saying this," said Lester, who has allowed 18 hits, 11 runs and three homers in 11 innings this season, "but I don't think I'm pitching as bad as the linescore says."

.197 Excluding Kevin Youkilis (14 for 27, .519), the Red Sox' team batting average through the first seven games. Nos. 3, 5, and 7 hitters David Ortiz (5 for 24), J.D. Drew (3 for 20) and Mike Lowell (4 for 26) are a combined 12 for 70, a .171 average.

"We're good," Ortiz said after the game when asked if Sox hitters were in a collective slump. "We're going to be fine."

4 Double plays hit into by Lowell during the first seven games, one for every hit. Truth be told, Lowell probably would have five GIDPs were Oakland infielder Bobby Crosby a more skilled second baseman. A shortstop by trade, Crosby was a little slow on a turn in the seventh inning, allowing Jason Bay to bear down on him sufficiently so that Lowell could beat the throw to first by a split second.

.180 The Red Sox' team batting average so far this season with runners in scoring position, 9 for 50. Excluding Youkilis (2 for 4) and Jason Bay (3 for 7), the Sox are 4 for 39 in such situations, a .103 average. At the moment, among American League teams, only the Seattle Mariners have fewer at-bats than the Sox with runners in scoring position.

.211 The Red Sox' batting average this season against righthanded pitching, an especially poor reflection on the lefthanded hitters in the Boston lineup. Combined, Ellsbury (3 for 18, .167), Drew (2 for 15, .133), Ortiz (2 for 13, .154), Jason Varitek (3 for 14, .214) and Jed Lowrie (1 for 15, .067) are 11 for 75 with 17 strikeouts, a .147 average. Varitek (no strikeouts) has swung the bat better than his average suggests, but the others have not.

6.13 Minus Josh Beckett, the Red Sox' team ERA entering tonight's outing by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who threw 101 pitches in 5 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay last week in his first outing of the year. Undoubtedly anticipating that he would need his bullpen tonight, Francona employed Javier Lopez and Takashi Saito -- who threw 33 pitches -- last night behind Lester, giving Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon the night off.

1 Errors committed by the Sox in their first seven games, the lone miscue coming in the second game of the season. On that play, first baseman Youkilis made a diving stab to his right and tried to throw out Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura at second base, but the ball hit Iwamura and deflected into the outfield. The run ended up being earned, anyway. The Sox have not allowed an unearned run this year.

3 Games by which the Sox are below .500, their biggest drop below sea level since they were 1-4 at the start of the 2000 campaign. The Sox have not been four games under .500 since the end of the 1997 season, when they finished 78-84. The Sox followed that campaign by trading for Pedro Martinez, whose arrival altered Red Sox history.

2:43 In hours and minutes, time of last night's game. Already this season, the Sox have played four games in under three hours, leaving their average time of game at slightly more than 2 hours 59 minutes.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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