Lack of offense kink in Sox's armor
Other than Manny and Papi, rest of order in ALCS funk
CLEVELAND -- The Red Sox have spawned plenty of debate recently with their rotation management. But while the pundits spout off about how rearranging the staff might've altered the course of the American League Championship Series, the real kink in Boston's armor has rested in its offense.
Sure, having Josh Beckett start in Game 4 on Tuesday night might have helped Boston avoid the 7-3 loss to Cleveland, but victories are hard to obtain when a lineup isn't producing -- no matter who's on the hill. After producing in spurts over the past two games, the Sox now sit just one defeat away from entering the offseason.
Beckett will aim to save Boston's season on Thursday, when he squares off against Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia in Game 5 at Jacobs Field. As well as Beckett has performed in postseason play, he'll need the Red Sox to rediscover the offense that struck for 16 runs in the first 13 innings of the ALCS. Since then, especially in the lower tier of Boston's order, the lineup has gone silent.
"It's going to happen. It's going to happen," said Boston's Manny Ramirez, when asked about the lineup's recent woes. "We've got a lot of confidence in our teammates. They've been good all year round. Now, because we're down, three games to one ... we have to keep grinding it out and see what's going to happen."
Ramirez has hardly been the issue. On Tuesday night, he thrust both arms into the air and admired the home run he launched in the sixth inning, giving the Red Sox an LCS-record three straight long balls against the Tribe. Unfortunately, the three solo shots were hardly enough to overcome the seven-spot that Boston surrendered an inning earlier, and the blasts also continued a recent trend for the slumping Sox.
Over the past 24 innings, beginning with the sixth frame of a Game 2 loss to Cleveland at Fenway Park, Boston has notched just five runs -- all on home runs. Across that same span, the Red Sox have hit just .212 as a team, with only three walks and a dismal 1-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position.
"In short doses, things certainly get magnified," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I think what we need to do is get ourselves in position where we do manufacture runs and not just lean on solo home runs. I don't know that juggling people [in the lineup] necessarily is going to make those solo home runs be different."
Ramirez and David Ortiz, who form one of the most intimidating slugging duos in baseball, have hit at an impressive pace this postseason, but they've had few baserunners to work with lately. During the ALCS, Nos. 8-9 hitters Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo, along with leadoff man Dustin Pedroia, have combined to hit just .174 (8-for-46).
Taking that a step further, Crisp, Lugo and Pedroia have posted a .138 average over the past 24 innings. Throw in catcher Jason Varitek and right fielder J.D. Drew, and that group of five Red Sox batters have combined to hit .197 through four games against the Indians, and .196 over the past two dozen frames.
"When the other guys down at the bottom of the order are going real good, that makes this team hard to beat," Kevin Youkilis said. "When guys are all comfortable from one through nine on this team, it's a dangerous lineup."
Then again, there's something to be said for how well Cleveland has pitched during Boston's dry spell.
"They've handed it to us pretty good," Mike Lowell said with a shrug.
One of the main differences has been that Cleveland's arms have started to take advantage of the patient approach exercised by Boston's bats. Consider that in the first two ALCS contests, Sabathia and Indians starter Fausto Carmona combined to throw first-pitch strikes to just 20 of the 44 batters they faced, allowing 12 runs in the process.
In Games 3 and 4, the less-overpowering Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd took the mound for the Tribe, respectively, and attacked the Sox's lineup early and often. Westbrook and Byrd combined to register first-pitch strikes on 38 of the 48 batters they encountered, putting Boston's hitters behind quickly.
"We were fortunate that Carmona and Sabathia struggled, to a certain extent, with throwing that first-pitch strike," Boston hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "Our hitters, their talent is getting a good pitch to hit. If you're not making that pitch early in the count, they're going to see some pitches.
"Where Byrd and Westbrook were very successful was they threw strike one, and they threw a quality strike one. Then they were able to go out there and expand the strike zone a little bit and make us chase some pitches or not give in to us."
Through the first 13 innings of this series, Boston's 16 runs came via 19 hits and 12 walks. That's the kind of production the lineup is capable of when the entire group is running on all cylinders. The Sox have no choice but to get back on track come Thursday.
Otherwise, the offseason will arrive earlier than Boston hoped.
"We just need to get some baserunners," Magadan said. "When pitchers are doing their job like their pitchers are doing, getting ahead in the count, it makes our job tougher.
"Hopefully with the game tomorrow, we realize what's at stake and we can do some things to create some energy out on the field."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.