Friday, May 2, 2008

Looking at the Sox Offensive Slump

So, how bad has the Red Sox offensive slump been? Well, since scoring three runs in the second inning of last Friday's 11 inning loss to the Rays they have scored exactly 5 runs in the 54 innings or six games worth of baseball that have followed. During that stretch, their record is 2-4. If Bucholz does not miss on that pitch to Akinori Iwamura last Saturday, maybe their record is 3-3. Of course, if they don't get those two walk-off wins at Fenway then maybe they are staring at 0-6. It is pointless to play the what if game though. The bottom line is that they are 2-4 over their last six games during which they have scored 5 runs over a 54 inning span. If you ask me, they are pretty damn lucky to be 2-4 during this stretch and I actually see this as a positive.

Over the course of a 162 game baseball season, every team no matter how good is going to go through stretches when they lose four of six. Lose two of three in back-to-back series; 2-6. Get swept, and then take two of three in a series; 2-6. You get the point. These things happen. It stinks that during this run the Sox wasted outstanding starts by Clay Bucholz and Josh Beckett, but those are the breaks in baseball. It happens to every pitcher a few times a year. Would we be feeling any better if things were going the exact opposite and the Sox went 2-6 while scoring 6 or 7 runs a game? Probably not. In fact, I'd say that we'd be panicking more about how awful the pitching staff is and and how bad it is to lose a game when the offense scores 6+.

With all of that being said, the offense has truly been brutal for the last week. But, let's look on the (relatively) brighter side for a moment. Consider:

1) A few weeks into the season Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and JD Drew all found themselves in the .350-.370 range. These three hitters I would say are guys that will end up in the .310, .280, and .275 ranges respectively. So, the averages had to dip eventually. I just did not think it would happen simultaneously and so quickly. Plus, Youk normally waits until after the All Star Break for his annual prolonged slump that goes ignored because too many people are too busy over-praising him because he has a last name that has a beginning that is fun to say and lends itself well to cheers.

2) Let's look at how each of the games has played out. As you will see the Sox have faced some of the AL's top pitchers over the past week creating a perfect storm - team wide slump vs. great pitching - for offensive incompetence.

Friday - 5-4 loss to TB in 11 innings
Here, they faced Matt Garza, a prime 2008 breakout candidate and the centerpiece to the trade the Rays made during the offseason with the Twins where they sent away last year's ROY runner up, Delmon Young. Garza, I think will be a very good pitcher for a long time. Last Friday was his first start off the DL and he struggled at first but then settled down. After that Tampa's AL best bullpen (no joke!!) took care of business until the late innings when they were able to force the Sox to use Mike Timlin who of course surrendered the winning run adding to his already extensive "Watch Mike Timlin Suck - '08 Version" highlight DVD.

Saturday - 3-2 loss to TB
Here the Sox lost to Edwin Jackson whose erratic style (22:16 K:BB) seems to give them fits. (He went 2-1 against them last year in August and September.) Jackson's not a bad pitcher though. This year he is 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He's the "worst" pitcher they have faced in this stretch but it's not like he's in the Hughes/Kennedy Zone for sucking.

Sunday - 3-0 loss to TB
This loss came against everybody's favorite really good, unknown pitcher in the AL, James Shields. So far this year he is 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and 28 K's in 39 IP to only 9 walks. This is no fluke. Last year Shields went 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 184 K's in 215 IP. What really amazes me about his numbers last year was the 1.02 WHIP he posted. Wow.

Tuesday - 1-0 victory over Toronto
This victory came over Roy Halladay. Halladay has consistently been one of the best pitchers in the AL since 2003 when he won his Cy Young. You want to know his average season over the course of his career?

227.2 IP/157:54 K:BB/3.62 ERA/128 ERA+/1.23 WHIP

Pretty good huh. Getting shut down by him is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Wednesday - 2-1 victory over Toronto
Another hot breakout candidate for 2008 was Dustin McGowan, the guy who more or less stymied the Sox on Wednesday. The reason for people saying this is thanks in large part to his 3.87 ERA, .217 BAA, 1.14 WHIP, and 87 K's in 98 IP after the All Star Break last year. This year he had pitched okay prior to facing Sox but was nothing outstanding. He was outstanding against the Sox though, and it was no fluke. McGowan is one of the many emerging pitchers in the AL East and when he finishes this season with an ERA in the mid-to-low threes there will be nothing embarrassing about not being able to do much of anything against him on a cold night in April.

Thursday - 3-0 loss to Toronto
Thursday the Sox ran into AJ Burnett. Good AJ Burnett can be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bad AJ Burnett can be an absolute train-wreck. Last night the Sox got Good AJ Burnett as much as the Blue Jays got Good Jon Lester on Tuesday. The end numbers for Burnett were impressive (0 ER in 7 2/3 IP) but he still walked as many batters, 5 as he struck out. Burnett can be great and overpowering at times - last year he did strikeout 176 in 165 2/3 IP - but Thursday night he really was not that way. It looks to me more like he was "effectively wild" and that mixed in with a struggling lineup spelled doom for the Sox. Burnett is a good pitcher and can be a great one so it's not like they were shut down by some scrub for the Royals. Still though, if a guy walks five batters you'd hope to be able to make him pay some way or another. Of all the pitching performances they encountered, I'd say this was the "worst" save for Garza's, but it was still pretty good and the Sox are not the first - nor will they be the last - team that AJ Burnett has shut down.

And there you have it. A more humanized look at this epic offensive slump for the Red Sox. A bit more understandable now right? Either way, I'd like to see them throw up a 10 spot tonight. So would my fantasy team. I got Manny and Ortiz on there so needless to say this last week has been a bit rough.

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